Lesotho elections: newcomers win, power changes hands, but politics will remain unstable

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Voting takes place in Maseru, Lesotho/CREDIT: UN Lesotho (file)
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The 2022 national elections in Lesotho will go down in the country’s history as among the most eventful. A party formed only six months ahead of the legislative election, Revolution for Prosperity, emphatically ended the reign of the All Basotho Convention and the Democratic Congress, which have dominated politics in the kingdom of 2.1 million people since 2012. The rookies won 56 out of 120 parliamentary seats – five seats short of an absolute majority. But the impressive win fell short of a majority that would have ended the era of unstable coalition politics in the country. Sam Matekane, the new party’s leader, has announced a three-member coalition government. So what do you need to know about the elections, and what happens next? DiA is delighted to carry this interview of Lesotho constitutional law expert Hoolo ‘Nyane by Thabo Leshilo.

What do the results tell us about Lesotho’s electoral politics?

The election results confirm the trend that started in 2012 – that voters have the power to replace governments. This is a sign of the maturation of electoral politics in Lesotho. In the past, the idea that elections could replace incumbent governments seemed far-fetched.

The period between 1993 and 2012 was one of a one-party dominated political system. Elections were just five-year constitutional rituals to confirm the status quo. Since 2012, every election has removed the ruling party. The 2022 elections continued that trend.

The formation of the Revolution for Prosperity party, just six months before the 2022 elections, by the business mogul Sam Matekane, gave voters an opportunity to replace the governing coalition of the All Basotho Convention and the Democratic Congress. These two parties have taken turns to lead coalition governments since 2012.

Another coalition. What is the history of coalition politics in Lesotho?

The country formally started the tumultuous journey of coalition politics after the 2012 elections. But the writing has been on the wall since 2002, when the country changed the electoral system, that coalitions are the future of electoral politics in Lesotho. The country changed the electoral system from a pure constituency-based electoral system to a mixed member proportional representation system. Under the new system parliament has 120 seats eighty of which are elected using constituency-based system while 40 are elected using proportional system. The forty proportional representation are compensatory in nature.

The 2007 election did not produce coalition governments. But parties formed pre-election alliances to contest elections. By that time, it was clear that single party dominance had ended.

The first coalition government was formed after the 2012 elections, led by the All Basotho Convention. The coalition collapsed in 2014. An early election was held in 2015, which returned a coalition of seven parties led by the Democratic Congress. It was the biggest coalition in the country’s history.

The Democratic Congress-led coalition collapsed in 2017, and an early election was called. It resulted in an All Basotho Convention-led coalition government with its leader, Tom Thabane, as the prime minister.

The 2017 coalition collapsed in 2020 when Thabane resigned as prime minister, after being accused of being involved in the murder of his ex-wife. In 2020, the grand coalition of All Basotho Convention and Democratic Congress was formed, with Moeketsi Majoro as the prime minister. The post-2022 elections coalition led by Matekane’s party is the fifth in a decade.

What are the biggest challenges facing the new coalition?

The new coalition announced on 11 October 2022 comprises the Revolution for Prosperity Party, the Alliance of Democrats and the Movement for Economic Change.

I think the new coalition will be prone to the challenges that beset its predecessors. Their biggest challenge was that they could not endure. None were able to complete a five-year term.

The new coalition needs to be alert to this to survive and endure.

The causes of the collapse are many. Of these, three are distinct and interrelated: conflicts within parties and coalitions; corruption; and the weak legal framework for coalitions and the stability of parliament.

Political parties in Lesotho are generally not well-managed. As a result, they are always susceptible to conflicts that often pose an existential threat to coalition governments.

Corruption and patronage are rife in Lesotho and within the coalition parties. Coalition partners find themselves entangled in conflicts over government tenders, deployment of senior civil servants and brazen use of public resources for either personal or political ends. Throughout his campaign and on the day of the announcement of his coalition the incoming Prime Minister, Sam Matekane committed to combating corruption. It remains to be seen when he will live that promise.

The weak legal framework to ensure stability of coalitions, governments and parliament: Most of the time, when conflicts boil up in government, floor-crossing (switching parties) and votes of no confidence in parliament are used to destabilise coalition governments.

Political reform that started after the 2012 elections, aimed at bringing stability to Lesotho, included provisions to address these problems. But the reform process, which was supposed to have been finalised ahead of the 2022 elections, collapsed. Hence the vulnerability remains.

What will it take for the new coalition government to succeed?

The new governing coalition enters office amid euphoria and excitement. The 2022 election was in a sense a “referendum” in which voters unequivocally rejected the two formerly dominant parties – the All Basotho Convention and the Democratic Congress. Those parties had presided over the plundering of public resources, thereby adding to economic hardship in the country.

There are, therefore, great expectations on Matekane and his party because of their promises to combat economic hardship, which is attributable primarily to poor management of public resources. Delivering on this promise is key to the success of the new coalition government.

In addition, the success of the coalition will turn on carrying out political reforms, some of which are intended to stabilise coalition governments.

Another important factor in the stability of coalitions is to have “one government”. In the past, coalition partners divided up government: each coalition partner was responsible for the ministries headed by his party. Each leader of a party in the governing coalition was a “mini prime minister”, accounting only for government ministries allocated to his party. Such balkanisation of government weakens accountability. It needs to be avoided.

What does the government need to deliver?

The new government has its work cut out. Highest on the national agenda is the outstanding reforms programme. The political system in Lesotho needs to be reformed urgently. The advantage about this programme is that there is some semblance of consensus already.

In addition, the economy in Lesotho is not in good shape. The coalition government will have to deliver on efforts to turn around the economy quickly.

Hoolo ‘Nyane (@HooloNyane) is Associate Professor and Head of the Public and Environmental Law Department at the University of Limpopo.

Hoolo ‘Nyane was talking to The Conversation Africa’s politics editor, Thabo Leshilo. This article appeared first with our friends at The Conversation, to read it on their excellent site, click here.

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