Survey findings an indictment on Lesotho’s politicians: analysts

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Bataung Moeketsi

AHEAD of his 57th birthday celebrations tomorrow, His Majesty King Letsie III received a strong vote of confidence from the nation. This after an Afrobarometer survey found that at least two thirds of Basotho trust the King so much that they want the constitution to be amended to establish monarchical rule in place of parliamentary democracy.

The latest findings, released a fortnight ago by the respected research institute, are in sync with its 2017 survey findings that 75 percent of citizens wanted more powers to be given to the King. This is because citizens feel the current governance institutions have fallen short of their expected effectiveness in addressing the economic, social, and political needs of the nation.

Some analysts say the survey findings are a testament of the nation’s love for His Majesty who has conducted himself very well over the course of his reign since his ascension on 7 February 1996.

The analysts say although the findings are a credit to the King, they however, reflect badly on the politicians who have ruled Lesotho since independence from Britain in 1966.

That most of the citizens want an abolition of parliamentary democracy is not so much a rejection of democracy per se. They say the findings are rather a rejection of the politicians who gained power through democratic elections only to abuse it for their personal interests at the expense of national development.

According to Afrobarometer, “key findings are that 66 percent of Basotho say elections and parliament should be abolished so that the King can govern the country”.

“Rule by the King wins greater support than democracy and three authoritarian alternatives, namely one-party rule, military rule and one-man rule by the prime minister.

“Rule by the King is particularly popular among the youngest respondents (71 percent), women (70 percent), and those who are not close to any political party (71 percent).

Back in 2017, Afrobarometer also found that 75 percent of citizens wanted more powers to be given to the King. It also found that “the trust in the King translates into the majority of Basotho strongly agreeing that the constitution should be amended to allow the King to have more say on issues of national importance”.

According to a High Court judge who refused to be named for professional reasons, “the findings are a credit to the King and a huge testament of the admirable manner in which he has conducted himself over the 24 years of his reign”.

“All over the world, monarchical rule has generally been the exception rather than the rule ever since western nations began overthrowing their kings and replacing them with republican governments in the 18th century.

“In September 1792, France became a republic and it executed its former King Louis XVI in January 1793. This was the French Revolution which set the tone for the overthrow of monarchies in most western countries and the subsequent adoption of democracy which is now in fashion in most countries.

“Even where monarchies remained in place like the United Kingdom, their powers were significantly reduced and they are now more of figureheads in democratic governments.

“It is therefore a huge credit to the manner that our King has conducted himself for Basotho to go against the grain by demanding that the constitution be amended to abolish parliamentary democracy in favour of monarchical rule,” the lecturer said.

He said King Letsie III had shown himself to be a unifying figure, speaking out against the subversion of the constitution by politicians and advising them to desist from interfering in the affairs of the security agencies, judiciary and other arms of the state.

“He has also spoken out strongly in favour of the multi-sector reforms to stabilise Lesotho and lay the foundation for socio-economic development. Most people feel that if he is given real power, he would therefore work for the development of the country,” the lecturer said.

However, other analysts say the survey findings should not be seen as a rejection of democracy per se. They say the findings are rather a rejection of politicians who have abused democracy to further their personal interests at the expense of national development.

NUL education lecturer Dr Mahao Mahao said politicians had not covered themselves in glory as they had shown that they were more concerned with acquiring power for selfish ends instead of “working towards a common goal” of developing the country.

“In my opinion the fact that King Letsie III is loved is a result of politics and politicians who lack direction and don’t seem to have answers to all national problems.

“While the king is a symbol of grace and humility in sharp contrast to most of these politicians, I think the non-workable political environment actually gives him more mileage to the extent that Basotho wish he steps up to bring sobriety to a forever boiling political cauldron.

“No one really knows what it would be like for Lesotho’s administration to be directly under his leadership. But because the politicians have failed the nation, he (King Letsie III) is the one people would invariably look up to,” Dr Mahao said.

He said instead of service delivery, Lesotho’s politicians were prone to scandals. He said the politicians were so divided that governments were often short-lived and the situation was not helped by the mushrooming of political parties whose number currently stands at 36.

“That Lesotho is also the hub of ballooning political party formations could be a factor feeding into the public’s visible fatigue with anything political. But the overriding factor in all this is a succession of very useless governments which have hardly engendered positive growth in the country,” Dr Mahao said.

Lesotho’s history is littered with politicians who have never acted in the national interest. Its recent history is even more depressing.  For instance the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties coalition from 2015 to 2017  lurched from one scandal to another. Its scandals include awarding the government fleet tender to a South African company, Bidvest, at highly inflated prices. The Mosisili government also presided over a period of gross human rights violations which saw the June 2015 assassination of former army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao.  Prior to its return to power in 2015, the Mosisili government had also presided over monumental graft including the awarding of a multi-million dollar tender for the printing of passports and ID cards to an Israeli company Nikuv without going to tender. The project has since sucked hundreds of millions from treasury. Internationally reputable companies with cost effective proposals were sidelined from the project after Nikuv paid bribes to officials of the Mosisili government. No one was ever brought to book in line with disdain with which the rule of law is regarded by officialdom in Lesotho.

The Thomas Thabane regime, which succeeded the Mosisili government from June 2017 to May 2020, did not fare any better.

Apart from the corruption scandals, Mr Thabane was himself accused of murdering his ex-wife, Lipolelo, on 14 June 2017. He is yet to appear in court alongside his current wife, ‘Maesaiah. Barely two months into its tenure, the current Moeketsi Majoro coalition is already beset by serious problems. Dr Majoro’s own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party is deeply divided. Some members are livid at being overlooked for cabinet posts while others are pressuring Dr Majoro to violate the constitution by ordering charges against Mr Thabane to be dropped. Dr Majoro himself is yet to produce a clear vision or programme of action about how he plans to extricate the country from its economic and political morass.

All this, according to Dr Mahao, does not portray the politicians in a positive light hence the public’s demands for the abolition of parliamentary democracy.

Fellow NUL political sciences lecturer Dr Moletsane Monyake said a national representative survey he himself recently conducted showed that Basotho do not trust politicians and how democracy is practiced in the country.

“From the research I conducted, it appears Basotho do not necessarily hate democracy.

“They embrace democracy and want to be involved in the decision-making processes. Democracy is about consultations and participation. But it’s a fact that Basotho’s experience of democracy has not been a pleasant one.

“We have had a lot of elections and changes of government over the past eight years and people’s lives have not changed for the better. Consequently, people no longer see the point of being governed by a democracy and the elections and everything else associated with democracy not because of anything wrong with democracy but because of the politicians’ conduct.”

The Transformation Resource Centre’s (TRC) head of the department for good governance, Lira Theko, said the survey findings reflected the nation’s exasperation with politicians’ failure to abide by democratic practices.

“Here in Lesotho we have oversight institutions like parliament that should be supporting democracy.

“But these institutions are very weak and it’s as though they don’t even exist,” Mr Theko said.

NUL political science lecturer Dr Mahlakeng Mahlakeng said Basotho had not necessarily rejected democracy but their support for the King was a protest against the politicians who fail them once elected into power.

While the survey findings are a boon to the King, they represent a wake-up call for politicians to get their act together to engender public confidence in democracy.

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