Nothing to be gained from numerous political parties: analysts

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…enactment laws to curb the proliferation of political parties, they say.

Herbert Moyo

ELEVEN months after its formation, Harvest FM radio owner ‘Malichaba Lekhoaba’s United for Change (UFC) party has officially become Lesotho’s 37th party.

This after it received its registration certificate from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) yesterday.

IEC Operations Inspector Kotsoane Motsie said a whopping 18 more parties including former All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao ’s newly formed Basotho Action Party (BAP) and former ABC legislator for Mokhotlong, Tefo Mapesela’s Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP) are all waiting in the wings to be registered by the IEC.

The registration of the remaining 18 parties will bring the number of political parties in Lesotho to a staggering 55.

The UFC becomes the fourth female led party in the country after the Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), former RCL secretary general ‘Machabana Lemphane-Letsie’s HOPE party and the ‘Mapuleng Montši-led Basotho Liberation Movement (BLM).

Upon receiving her party’s registration certificate, an elated Ms Lekhoaba declared her intention to contest next year’s general elections and her lofty aim of becoming Lesotho’s first female prime minister.

“We want to participate in the elections because we would like to have a woman prime minister,” Ms Lekhoaba said to loud cheers and ululations from hundreds of supporters who had braved the chilly weather to attend the handover of the registration certificate at the IEC offices at the MGC Park in Maseru.

Ms Lekhoaba even boldly declared that five years at the helm would be enough for her to “to bring change and reform Lesotho into a completely new country”.

She is not alone in portraying herself as a breath of fresh air in Lesotho’s political landscape.

Ms Lemphane-Letsie of the HOPE party has also promised a “new dawn of consultative and constructive engagement in politics”.

She said in addition to the usual women’s and youth league representatives in the NEC, the disabled and business sector would also be represented in the highest decision-making organ of HOPE.

“These structures will make us different from all other parties that have come before us,” Ms Lemphane-Letsie said.

“We have realised that having the business sector will help us promote the country’s economy because the players are best placed to create jobs.

“Governments often fail to provide jobs that they promise the electorate during elections. It is against this background that we have also decided to set up an investment company which will enable our members to do business easily,” Ms Lemphane-Letsie added.

But analysts are sceptical of Ms Lekhoaba, Ms Lemphane-Letsie and even Prof Mahao’s capacity to make any meaningful political contributions to address the plight of long-suffering citizens of this country.

If anything, analysts view the formation of their parties as yet another manifestation of the self-seeking phenomenon of individuals who enter into politics for personal enrichment. The analysts say that 37 political parties, most of which never make it to parliament, is too big for a country of Lesotho’s size and economy.

“It’s as if we are watching one of those famous Indian circuses of old or those of the American Wild West,” an analyst, Sello Sello, said of the proliferation of political parties in Lesotho.

“Prof Mahao is probably a well-meaning politician with a squeaky-clean image and a reputation for bringing sanity to the National University of Lesotho (NUL) during his time in charge of the tertiary institution. But politics is a different game altogether. It is a jungle where he will get muddied. His time in the ABC has already shown that try as he may, there is precious little that he can do because he will always be bunched with individuals who are not interested in politics as a high minded calling where people actually endeavour to bring change in the lives of the electorate. He will have to work with individuals whose only concern is fattening their bank accounts.

“The same applies to women like ‘M’e Lekhoaba and ‘M’e Montši. On the face of it, it might look like the formation of women-led parties is a sign of a healthy vibrant democracy and women are also stepping up to the plate to claim their rightful place in national politics. But the reality is that what we are actually witnessing is more people seeking a ticket to the gravy train that is offered by politics. Self-seeking behaviour and self-aggrandisement knows no gender.

“Ours is a small economy incapable of sustaining a vibrant business sector. The government is the biggest employer through lucrative tenders to connected private companies and individuals. We have a low threshold where even one proportional representation seat can enable one to become a minister like the Ntate (Basotho National Party leader Thesele) ‘Maseribane who has not won any seats but is in government courtesy of a proportional representation ticket. We also had Mme (Reformed Congress of Lesotho leader Keke) Rantšo as a cabinet minister from June 2017 until she was booted out by the Prime Minister (Moeketsi Majoro).

“Therefore, it should not surprise anyone that more people are forming political parties. It’s because all these upstarts know that all they have to do is get a single parliamentary seat either in a constituency or through proportional representation and they have a good chance of being considered for a cabinet post which would enable them to control the awarding of lucrative government tenders. They also know that as MPs they would instantly qualify for an M37 000 per month salary. Monthly fuel allowances of M5000 each and other perks such as the M500 000 interest-free loans,” Mr Sello said.

Another analyst, Thuso Mosabala, said “the proliferation of political parties in Lesotho is not premised on the idea of good governance for the benefit of the nation but it is an employment opportunity. The capture and or control of the state enables wealth accumulation”.

The analysts have a point in condemning the proliferation of political parties which could result in 55 registered parties.  To put the matter into perspective, Lesotho has only 2, 1 million people, a population much smaller than that of South Africa’s commercial hub city of Johannesburg. According to the latest World Bank estimates, annual gross domestic product (GDP) is only US$2, 7 billion (about M40 billion) and the majority of Basotho survive on less than US$1 per day.

Far bigger countries with more prosperous economies like the United States of America (US) which has 328.2 million people and GDP of well over US$20, 54 trillion have had only two political parties for centuries. Since 1852, the US political system has revolved around the Democrats and the Republicans.

Similarly, the United Kingdom’s political landscape has been dominated by the Conservative and the Labour parties for several decades with the Liberal Democrats playing a fringe role. There is therefore no reason why poor Lesotho should have so many political parties, the analysts say.

If anything, the government should enact tougher new laws to stop the mushrooming of political parties, the analysts say.

Last year, the now deceased NUL political science lecturer, Monyake Moletsane, said the huge number of political parties in Lesotho is not commensurate with the country’s small population and economy.  Dr Moletsane said that greed and the desire for personal enrichment were the major reasons for the proliferation of political parties in the country.

“The number of political parties in Lesotho is alarming and is a great cause for concern. It stems from the belief that politics is a lucrative industry for people who have no other way of making money,” Dr Moletsane said at the time.

Dr Moletsane was also dismissive of Ms Lekhoaba’s “change” mantra, saying most of the new political players promised new ideologies and policies “only to end up going with the flow of the established self-serving political culture in Lesotho”.

He said a case in point was the Selibe Mochoboroane-led Movement for Economic Change (MEC) which was formed in 2017 on the back of promises to fight graft but had since decided to join the older political parties like the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC) in the governing coalition.

Another analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said now that he was in government as Development Planning minister, Mr Mochoboroane was no longer as vocal in the fight against corruption as he was when he was chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and when his party was not a member of any coalition.

“In his new portfolio as Development Planning Minister, Ntate Mochoboroane has even greater powers to tackle corruption than he did when he was merely chairperson of the PAC. He got off to a good start last year with his whirlwind tour of the whole country assessing various infrastructure problems where he learnt firsthand that most of the contractors are crooks. He made all the right noises about acting to ensure all projects are completed. Prime Minister Majoro even set a deadline for the completion of all the projects. He even spoke about the need to take punitive measures against culprits but just a few months down the line, neither Ntate Mochoboroane and the prime minister are saying anything. They have settled into the all-too-familiar routine of politicians looking the other way and allowing graft to continue unabated.

“This is the same behaviour we will see being displayed by these new party leaders once their parties win any form of power,” the analyst said.

Another analyst, Motsamai Mokotjo, said it would be difficult for new political parties like BAP, BPP or the UC to make an impact in a political space that was already littered with so many parties.

He said there were already too many splinter parties which had been formed to gain seats in parliament which would guarantee their leaders monthly pay cheques and other perks. It is not about pushing a development agenda as the politicians claim, but self-enrichment, Mr Mokotjo said.

“There is an urgent need for the reforms to address the proliferation of political parties in this country. That is why we are pushing for an enactment of laws to increase the threshold for a party to be registered to 5000 members from the current 500 to curb this proliferation of parties.

“We should move from this small figure of 500 to at least 5000. One can easily gather 500 people in the streets and give them money to buy makoenya (fat cakes) to get the numbers to register his party.

“We need an act specifically for the registration of political parties. We can’t continue with the status quo where political parties are registered at the law office as though they are non-governmental organisations,” Mr Mokotjo said.

Until there are stricter laws, Lesotho’s political landscape will remain a circus with many performers entering and crowding the stage. The country is gravitating towards a scenario where it would be possible to hit a politician each time someone throws a stone into a crowd.

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