Understanding the post-2015 political crisis

Understanding the post-2015 political crisis

Continued from last week

On 10 November, 2016, NEC announced the withdrawal of the DC from the seven-party coalition government. The reasons advanced for withdrawal of DC from the coalition government include widespread corruption in the public sector and the failure of government to bring to book those responsible.

One of the biggest corruption scandals involves the fraudulent award of the field service management contract worth millions and millions of US dollars to a South African company, Bidvest Bank Limited in what seems like state capture in Lesotho by this company.
In response to the letter from the DC secretary general written to the Speaker of Parliament advising her of the party’s withdrawal from the coalition government, the Speaker, Ntlhoi Motsamai, a thope par excellence, quipped that the matter should be referred to the party caucus in parliament instead of the NEC, submitting directly to her. She argued that it is the party caucus that has the power to submit such a proposal to the office of the Speaker.

Subsequently, the Lirurubele faction of the DC entered into a coalition agreement for national unity and reconciliation with the All Basotho Convention (ABC) of the former Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, together with other parties including the BNP and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

Through this agreement, the DC and ABC have agreed to work together in opposition to the current government with a view to dislodge it from power.
Their plan was to pass a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, replace the current coalition government with Moleleki as the new Prime Minster and Thabane as the Deputy Prime Minister for the first eighteen months after which they would then switch positions.
Importantly, the eighteen months is not a magic time-frame. It was deliberately chosen because, after serving eighteen months as Prime Minister, a holder of that position qualifies for a pension and other benefits of former Prime Minister.

Lithope stood up to Lirurubele’s challenge. They quickly swung into action to defend their lucrative capture of state power. The Prime Minister and leader of the DC responded by taking a series of actions, which culminated in suspension of many DC NEC from the party.
DC leader’s suspension of ‘rebel’ members of DC NEC lead to his party’s loss of majority in parliament, particularly in light rumour that suspended individuals intended to form a breakaway party.

To fend off parliamentary challenge that could seek to benefit DC’s loss of majority in parliament, the Speaker, and member of Lithope faction in DC, dismissed about 13 Members of Parliament, including the three party leaders still in political exile in South Africa namely Thomas Thabane of the ABC, Thesele ’Maseribane of the BNP and Keketso Rantšo of RCL to reduce the number of opposition MPs in case of a vote of no confidence on the Prime Minister in the legislature; and adjourning parliament indefinitely (sine die) on 21 November, 2016 to avoid the possibility of a majority of MPs passing a vote of no confidence in him as the Prime Minister.

Faced with slim prospects to control the DC, Moleleki and his allies left the party together with sections of the youth league and women’s league to form the new party known as the Alliance of Democrats (AD).
At the time of writing this chapter, the LCD was experiencing internal faction-fighting involving two groups. One group, known as Ma-Ekhepeta (the Egyptians), is led by the Minister of Defence, Tšeliso Mokhosi, and is allied to the party leader and Deputy Prime Minister.

The other group, known as Ma-Isiraele (The Israelis), is led by the Minister of Small Business Enterprises, Selibe Mochoboroane.
During the first week of January, 2017, the LCD announced that it had expelled Mochoboroane. This followed a failed attempt by the party’s committee of elders to bring the two feuding party leaders together and resolve the dispute amicably.

It was after this failed attempt by the elders, led by the former deputy prime minister, Lesao Lehohla, that Mochoboroane was rumoured to have formed a new party known as the Movement for Economic Change.

The splits within the DC and LCD, major drivers of the current coalition government, do not augur well for the two-year-old ruling coalition. Time will tell how long the post-2015 coalition government survives, compared to the post-2012 one, which also collapsed before completing its full term ofl office.

In case the current government does not survive the factionalism within the DC and LCD and pressure from opposition forces mounts, how long will the current coalition government survive? In case the government collapses, how will this situation be addressed?
Will change of power happen within parliament through a vote no confidence on the Prime Minister? Or, will it be through a snap election, as was the case when the post-2012 coalition government collapsed? Time will tell.

From the opposition ranks, there are reports of possible splits within the main opposition, ABC and the smaller opposition, Reformed Party of Lesotho (RCL). In both parties, leadership tussles within their National Executive Councils seems to be at the heart of the internal faction-fighting.
Within the RCL, the party leader seems to be at loggerheads with some of the members of the NEC, whose details are rather scanty. Within the ABC, the NEC suspended the party’s deputy leader, Tlali Khasu for three months in September, 2016, for bringing the party into disrepute by challenging the leadership style of the party leader, Thomas Thabane, publicly over the radio.

The apparent conflict between Khasu and Thabane, ostensibly emanates from a contestation over who should become the official leader of opposition in parliament. According to Khasu (Lesotho Times, 5 Jan., 2017), the ABC parliamentary caucus had decided that since Thabane is entitled to a retirement package as former Prime Minister, he would become the official leader of opposition.

However, the NEC later decided that Motlohi Maliehe, the MP for Butha-Buthe constituency would become the official leader of opposition, given his “experience on how parliament functions” (Lesotho Times, 5 Jan., 2017).
When Khasu challenged this decision, the ABC party leader decided to assume the position of official leader of opposition and take his retirement package at the same time.

Khasu has decided to leave ABC and vowed to establish a new political party together with some members of ABC who sympathise with his cause. Details about this planned new party were sketchy at the time of writing this essay, and its political implications for the ABC yet unclear.
This chapter highlights three major explanatory factors for the post-2015 political crisis in Lesotho. Firstly, the post-2015 political crisis in Lesotho has its structural root causes embedded in the country’s socio-economic fabric, which is marked by underdevelopment, poverty, unemployment, inequality and exclusion especially affecting more adversely marginalised segments of society such as women, the youth, minorities, people with disability, etc.

As efforts are made towards the resolution of the post-2015 crisis, efforts should be made for a socio-economic transformation, taking into account both internal and external dynamics of Lesotho’s economy.
Internally, focus should be on developing the productive sector, with priority placed towards agriculture and rural development, so as to address poverty and unemployment.

Developing the productive capacity of the economy including the private sector is bound to reduce the intensity of political contestation over the control of the state and the violence that goes with this contestation.
Externally, given Lesotho’s geopolitical location, serious thinking has to go into how best the country’s regional identity (especially its relations with South Africa) should be re-oriented.

Secondly, Lesotho suffers from an entrenched culture of violence and impunity in the conduct of politics. This culture is engrained in the age-old trend of militarisation, with its engrained culture of fear and silence in society much to the detriment of a democratic culture and practice.
In addressing this problem, as part of the broad governance and security transformation agenda, Lesotho has to (a) ensure full implementation of the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry; (b) full implementation of the recommendations of the Commonwealth study on governance reforms undertaken by Professor Prasad;

(c) ensure constructive civil-military relations through the establishment of a specific portfolio committee on defence; (d) ensure the independence of all rule of law institutions including the police, anti-corruption body, the Ombudsman, etc. in discharging their mandate; (e) improve the relations between the army and the police; (f) promote national dialogue regarding the future of the army in Lesotho.

Thirdly, Lesotho is also bedevilled by a fragmented party system, marked by internal factionalism within parties, which often leads to party splits. In addressing the problem of a fragmented party system, the following policy measures should be undertaken:
(a) deepen intra-party democracy, (b) promote constructive inter-party relations, (c) ban floor-crossing in parliament or at least introduce the need for a by-election in case an MP crosses the floor, (d) revisit Lesotho’s electoral model with a view to ensure 50-50 proportions between the First-Past-The-Post and the Proportional Representation components; and (e) introduce a threshold for parties to gain access to parliament between 3-5 percent drawing lessons from countries such as Mozambique and New Zealand.

Khabele Matlosa

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