‘Lesotho needs a government of national unity’

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Transformation Resource Center (TRC) Director Tšoeu Petlane
Transformation Resource Center (TRC) Director Tšoeu Petlane

THE Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) yesterday announced the allocation of parliamentary seats following the release of the 28 February general elections results, which have resulted in a hung parliament yet again.

From the 120 seats available, the allocation went as follows: Democratic Congress 47, All Basotho Convention (ABC) 46, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) 12, Basotho National Party (BNP) seven, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) two seats each, while Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), National Independent Party (NIP) and Basotho Congress Party (BCP) got one seat each.

In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Director Tšoeu Petlane, who is also a political scientist, sheds light on what kind of government Basotho following the results of the elections.

LT: The IEC has announced the election results. Can you analyse these results and tell us exactly what they mean for the nation.

Petlane: Technically it means we have a hung parliament, and more so than in 2012. If we thought the 2012 election results were uncertain, in terms of who was going to be in government and who was not, this time around it is much more so. In 2012 there were possibilities. We could see coalitions being created, but even if they were to be created according to the fault lines that we already are familiar with, we would still have almost 50/50 split between the two camps (Democratic Congress (DC) and All Basotho Congress (ABC)). And we would still have less than the requisite numbers to form government on either side. The variation is between 46 and 47. So if we are looking at a parliament where there are two camps of equal weight, then it is a hung parliament. Last time, we had two camps of relatively equal weight, but we also had a group of parties that could swing either way. This time we have only three seats that could swing either way, and that is going to be a difficult thing.

LT: How do we go forward?

Petlane: The DC-LCD government will be difficult in two senses. Firstly, it will be facing a very strong opposition. It is going to be an opposition almost equal to the government in weight in Parliament, so that is going to be a difficult scenario. The second difficulty is that it will be made up of many parties. And, because of the apparent ideological differences within the cobbled up coalition government that is now envisaged to take over, there are going to be misunderstandings, disagreements and constant threats to the survival of the government.

LT: What are your suggestions as political experts or non-governmental organisations in the country?

Petlane: A couple of proposals have been put on the table that recommend a government of national unity or a grand coalition. Technically there is a difference. A government of national unity means bringing everybody into concert and agreeing that we are not going to have an opposition, and we are not going to have people called government. So everybody now brings their seats into the government and these are normally transitional arrangements that are supposed to stabilise the situation. And from there, we move forward to a competitive election after a period that can then be agreed on. A grand coalition normally is when there is the leadership, or a leading party that then decides to put together a government that is made up of parties beyond itself. Let’s look at the case of the ANC (African National Congress) in South Africa. They formed a grand coalition (following the 1994 elections) in the sense that the ANC had already won the majority but because they were on a nation-building agenda, decided to bring in other parties. So while there were still divisions and a side called opposition, the side called government opened up the doors and said whoever wants to participate in the government side please come in. The other parties would then come in on the basis that they all have a common vision. It would not be a programmatic vision but about national dynamics and consensus. So it then becomes a grand coalition, which goes beyond just seeking a mandate or seeking a majority in parliament. It looks into a bigger national agenda.

LT: Which of the two models you have mentioned is most preferable for the situation in Lesotho?

Petlane: A government of national unity starts by saying there shall not be opposition. Everybody shall be working towards national unity. It is more inclusive than the grand coalition. A grand coalition still assumes there is going to be a government and an opposition. A government of national unity, even the name already tells you, is meant to unite the nation and that’s normally a short-term assignment that may not necessarily be a result of elections. Sometimes it precedes an election. And it’s normally a post-crisis arrangement. So that will be the way that I understand it. If we go for the grand coalition scenario, you might have one or two parties staying out of that coalition. I suspect that if one of the two big parties decides to stay out of that grand coalition, then you would still remain with the dichotomy that does not really address the issue of incorporating the majority. So that will be difficulty number one. If we are looking at a government of national unity, then the driving forces would have to be the ABC and DC because, between them already, they have more than 70 percent of the national votes. The difficulty at the moment is that under the current circumstances we have created a dichotomy in our politics where we have got Congress and Nationalist parties. And now, a lot of people have got rancor in their hearts that says the two camps are like water and oil and therefore cannot merge. That strict division is still very strong.

LT: What do you think is going to happen in this two-week window period?

Petlane: I am more inclined with looking up to a government of national unity because I think that is what is best for the nation. It will give us an opportunity to address some of those serious constitutional reforms that we have so far failed to address. Those include floor crossing, senate reforms, formation of government, prorogation, motion of no confidence, dual citizenship, army and civilian relations, control of the armed forces and so on. There is a whole series of constitutional and institutional reforms that Lesotho needs to go through in order to stabilise the institutional sector that will then support democracy. And we have so far failed to address those because we have been either dealing with various crisis or we have had governments that, by the nature of what the agendas are, would have no interest in addressing those issues.

 

I am more inclined with looking up to a government of national unity because I think that is what is best for the nation. It will give us an opportunity to address some of those serious constitutional reforms that we have so far failed to address.

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