Time Lesotho formed a national unity govt

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Peete Molapo

“POLITICAL settlements have been a feature of state building in all states. Every state is based on a political settlement that represents the outcome (but also on-going processes) of contention and bargaining between elites, and between social groups and those who occupy authority within the state and society more widely.” (Edward Laws August 2012).

This article was written last year just after the prorogation of Parliament, effected on 10 June 2014, and the Lesotho government’s request for Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervention. It has not been changed at all, as an indication that its message is as relevant now as it was then. The only thing that has been cut out is the recommended model which can be the subject of a later debate.

The political situation in Lesotho is at a crossroads and demands Basotho to take serious decisions and contrive a political settlement that will determine and define the direction and future of their statehood and nationhood. It is a situation that needs Basotho across the political divide, religious beliefs, and totems to put their narrow interests aside and focus on the bigger picture; Lesotho and its posterity. Although potentially explosive and thus dangerous if not handled properly, the current situation presents a fortuitous opportunity for Basotho to prove to the region and the world at large that they are capable of solving their own problems and determining their destiny. More importantly, it could be a game-changer by presenting an opportunity for Basotho to re-invent Lesotho to achieve the ideals of Vision 2020. Additionally, Lesotho’s political problems must be solved by Basotho and not foreigners. Any foreign solution will not work as it will lack local ownership. Foreign political intervention is, by its nature, intrusive, humiliating and embarrassing as we have to wash our dirty linen in public.

Common sense dictates that for one to propose any solution, the problem must be known and well defined. The problem of Lesotho is systemic political instability and the solution is right within the system. The risk of political instability is inherent to any democratic system and Lesotho is no exception. The main challenge about political instability is how it is handled by the political elite and society at large. Its mishandling can lead to the collapse of governance and socio-economic chaos. At the very extreme, it can lead to civil war. These possible consequences of political instability once ignited are usually self-reinforcing and can drown a country into a “failed state” status. To plunge a country into a failed state can take a very short time but to rid it of that stigma is a long term project. Lesotho is already infamous for political instability and this perception needs to be urgently reversed.

Any amicable resolution to the current political impasse can go a very long way towards the restoration of the image of Lesotho as a “stable democracy, united and prosperous nation at peace with itself and neighbour”.

Immanently, politics is a zero-sum game. There has to be a winner and a loser. Unfortunately, it is this inherent characteristic of politics that makes it such an emotionally contentious issue.  The Lesotho political landscape has since 1993 to 2012 been dominated by one party. It is common cause that the losers never accepted the outcomes without dispute on the processes followed and the culmination of that was the 1998 disaster. It was not until the 2002 elections that a new system of proportional representation was introduced to make allowance for broader political inclusion. It was presumed that post-election disputes were mainly caused by the exclusion of smaller parties and their voters. This was indeed a democratic and equitable move and it resulted in some semblance of stability. However, it did not remove the winner/loser characteristic of typical politics. Interestingly, what precipitated or accelerated a significant change in the political landscape of the country was the political struggle that ensued within the then ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party which ultimately led to its split of the party. That split was a game-changer in the politics of Lesotho.

The 2012 elections returned a coalition government and the first of its kind in Lesotho. For the first time, the electoral processes and systems were not disputed. However, it is noteworthy that three parties decided to form a coalition to preclude the party that had won most constituencies to form government. The coalition was not formed because of any common ideological leanings but to establish an alternative government.

Right from the beginning, the major weakness of the coalition government has been its poor internal governance, itself a consequence of a rather lop-sided power sharing. The coalition parties decided to allocate ministerial portfolios along party lines. Devoid of a common thread linking them to the centre of power, government ministries operated as political silos and the politicisation of the civil service became the order of the day. The lack of or poor consultation among the coalition government members became the root cause of conflict as some decisions, ostensibly taken at party level,  could not be supported by other coalition members.

The main reason for the collapse of governance by the coalition parties has been a lack of understanding on how to share political and executive power. Now that Lesotho’s politics seem to have taken a new direction of elections that can result in a hung parliament, there is an urgent need to develop a governance framework for a coalition government as it is now evident that its modus operandi is distinctly different from the single party majority system. Indeed, the coalition government undertook an important trip to New Zealand with the purpose of doing just that, though belatedly.

It is very noteworthy that before a new operational framework for coalition governments is put in place, the mooted new coalition between one of the coalition parties (the LCD) and the main opposition party (Democratic Congress) cannot be a solution to the current political problem but likely to be its perpetuation for  the following two reasons:

  • Such a coalition would simply take the same risk of muddling through as the current one and the country cannot afford to knowingly take the same risk for the second time.
  • Second, the collapse of the current coalition government from the likely motion of no confidence in Parliament – even though legal in terms of the constitution – could foment further political instability and that needs to be avoided. In other words, it is not a solution to the current crisis.

The coup de grace to the coalition government has been the recent raid by the army on police stations that also had the hallmarks of a coup d’etat and saw the prime minister and other government officers fleeing the country. This incidence shook the very foundations of government i.e. peace and security. One of the fundamental functions of any government is to provide political stability.

Without political stability, governance deteriorates, the economy suffers, foreign investment dries up, donor support is lost, the country becomes a pariah and acquires the failed state status. Lesotho does not deserve to sink that low, hence it is imperative for the leadership of government and political parties to reverse this untenable situation as quickly as possible before getting out of total control. To this end, it is proposed that in the interest of national peace and stability, a government of national unity be established that will provide an inclusive platform for a long lasting nationally-owned political solution.

Usually the reasons for the formation GNUs are:

  • diffusing tensions between political parties;
  • accommodating defeated parties by victorious parties when such defeat threatens national peace and stability, and/or
  • managing a national disaster, emergency or war.

Lesotho is not at war but desperately needs space to reduce the simmering political and social tensions and get things right for the common good of all.

 

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