Who should elect prime minister: citizens or MPs?



Sofonea Shale

The contemplated constitutional review shall remain an elitist process that insulates politicians from public control unless citizens rise and actively participate in debate and dialogue to shape their constitution. One of many questions that Basotho may need to interrogate is who should elect Prime Minister: the citizens or Members of Parliament (MPs)?

Upon independence, Lesotho inherited the Westminster model of government whose key features include an executive derived from the legislature. This means that government legitimacy depends on sustained support in parliament. In light of the reality that governance systems are not prehistory but social constructs and that nothing holds Basotho to things tried, tested and found durable for other nations if not locally helpful, the constitution of Lesotho should be thoroughly engaged. In terms of the 1966 constitution, the Prime Minister came from the National Assembly but contrary to the current situation non-parliamentarian Ministers were allowed. Basotho made this change on their own, so what is it that they cannot change to suit their case this time around? The 1993 constitution indicates in Section 87(2) that the Prime Minister shall be a member of the National Assembly who commands the majority in the House. Pursued to comprehension and its logical conclusion, this provision basically says he or she who is supported in parliament regardless of how the citizens and the actual electors think, can be a Prime Minister.  This equally means that the Prime Minister who may be popular among citizens is likely to be removed so long as MPs do not think he or she is suitable for the job.  Because the Motion of No Confidence as contemplated in Section 87(5) (a) of the constitution and operationalised in Standing Order number 111 does not have to be based on any reason, MPs can decide to remove the Prime Minister even for the reasons that people who voted for them cannot support. The Section 87(2) of the constitution is not only the most misunderstood section of the constitution but one that has been mutilated since 1993 particularly due to absence of enabling legislation that operationalises it.  Since 1993 no Member of National Assembly has been appointed by the King as the Prime Minister on the basis of tested majority support in the House. Though it is equally true that no Prime Minister could legitimately sit without majority support in the House, to have a Prime Minister by implication while there is an affirmative constitutional provision demonstrates poor interpretation and appreciation of governance architecture. There is a confirmed observation that the majority of Basotho do not know how the Prime Minister is elected.

When people cast their vote at the polling centre in the constituency, exactly what are they doing? Section 57(1) (c) (i) of the Constitution indicates that in composing the National Assembly, there shall be 80 (eighty) Members to be elected in respect of each of the constituencies contemplated by Section 67(1) and operationalised through National Assembly Electoral Act 2011, in particular Section 80 providing that voting in general elections shall be conducted in every constituency.  In this way, when casting a vote, people vote for representatives of their constituencies and these will determine who becomes the Prime Minister on behalf of the voting population. Is it proper in a democracy for citizens to entrust MPs with such a huge responsibility? Further does this legal provision reflect the will of the people? Do people want MPs to elect and remove the Prime Minister on their behalf or is just what the law provides?

In general it is believed that Basotho do not necessarily vote for MPs as preferred individuals to represent their constituencies but vote for leaders of political parties under which such candidates contest.  In Lesotho, several good candidates have not made it against their political parties in constituencies. In the event that a popular local politician loses favour with central executive of his or her political party and therefore right to represent the party at the constituency, it is normally hard to be voted if one contests as independent candidate for parliamentary elections.  People like the late Thabo Mokotso were able to beat political parties in contest in constituencies and the most recent experience was the one in which Bofihla Nkuebe beat the ruling Basuto Congress Party in the Qeme by-election in 1994 but the rest find it hard. This may perhaps be explanation why even bad candidates would be elected against otherwise better. Why could this be, could it be because the independent candidate is likely to remain ordinary Member of Parliament while voting for a party candidate gives guarantee that upon winning a party leader becomes Prime Minister. However in local government many independent candidates have beaten their political parties. In 2005 60 per cent of seats were won by independent candidates while in 2011it was 13 per cent.

If Basotho decide that Prime Minister be elected directly and not by proxy, MPs will no longer have excessive right to decide on the head of executive. Those MPs who put undue pressure on the Prime Minister to give them ministerial positions otherwise they would join those who seek to remove him will no longer have effect.  This also means that MPs will no longer have right to pass vote of no confidence on the Prime Minister but they could only impeach. If Basotho decide to vote for Prime Minister directly they would be entrusting the executive mandate to one person who shall be solely responsible for executive. In the current arrangement the head of executive organ of state does not have popular mandate in the true sense of the word. In other words the right of citizens to put and remove head of government is delegated to the MPs who in many occasions do not remain loyal to their voters.  If people elect Prime Minister directly will that not correlate with the intention of people when they go out to vote? Do people go out to vote for parliament or for executive? Looking at the content of party manifestoes and indeed what constituency candidates also promise, it is basically the stuff for executive not parliament. MPs become popular or unpopular in their constituencies not for being active in committees and holding government to account but on how many development projects government has or not implemented in the constituency. In the current situation, many parliamentarians define their duty as being loyal to the Prime Minister and as long as they do that, they see their political future guaranteed, but what about the duties of parliament? In fact why should MPs have to determine the Prime Minister that citizens would not have?

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