Understanding the post-2015 political crisis

Understanding the post-2015 political crisis

Continued from last weekContinued from last week
This option is also interesting in that it helps us think beyond conventional wisdom, as Maaparankoe Mahao was fond of doing. Asked by a journalist, whether or not Lesotho needs an army, Mahao, the quintessential thinker, an avid reader and soldier-cum-intellectual, had this to say: “I believe Lesotho does need a security force. That security force can be in different forms. It can be an army, a police force or a paramilitary police.

I have been to Costa Rica which they say does not have an army. What I saw there is that even though they don’t call it an army, their security force is more advanced in terms of human resources and equipment. I felt very jealous” (thePost, July 2-8, 2015. Italics added).The last option above, therefore, may be very difficult to sell to the political elite who have grown accustomed to using the military for their own political gains. It may also be difficult to sell to the military personnel who have habituated their cosy relations with politicians and the benefits that come with this relationship. Governance is about choices. Lesotho has to choose whether it continues on this slippery slope of militarisation.

The country could also choose to change course and redirect its politics towards democratisation wherein civilian control over the security forces is institutionalised and the relationship between the political elite and the military marked by corruption and criminality is a thing of the past. Whichever way Lesotho goes, it needs genuine, frank and open dialogue on its political and socio-economic future. Without a genuine national dialogue on Lesotho’s future, including its economy, its politics, its society, the security forces, state institutions, its relations with South Africa, Africa and the world etc., the current culture of fear is bound to deepen even further, a perfect breeding ground for authoritarianism and militarisation. All dictatorships across the globe survive and thrive within the context of a culture of fear and silence. Such a culture of silence and fear, as exists now in post-2015 Lesotho should not be allowed.

Citizen engagement is the key to exorcising a culture of fear and impunity. In a bid to challenge the existing culture of fear and silence, a number of civil society groups organised a protest march, in Maseru, on 12 May, 2016, and presented a petition to the office of the Prime Minister. In that petition, the protestors called on the Lesotho government to:

i. Transparently and fully account to the citizens on the progress made in the implementation of all the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry;ii. Expedite implementation and devise clear and decent communications strategy away from the current abrasive rhetoric to ensure cordial relations between state and society;iii. Embark on comprehensive security sector reforms aimed at transforming the LDF into a professional and cohesive institution that (a) is fully subject to civilian control, (b) respects the rule of law, (c) enjoys the confidence of all Basotho;iv.

Provide assurances that Basotho textile workers will not lose their jobs due to possible disqualification of Lesotho on the AGOA preferential trade arrangement;v. Open doors for civil society participation in the on-going mediation facilitated by the Heads of Churches and convene a National Dialogue for all stakeholders to pave a way for durable reforms and stability of Lesotho (Lesotho Council for Non-Governmental Organisations, 2016:4).
Confinement of the current political crisis in Lesotho merely to the state of the economy and militarisation would miss the point. Another key factor for the post-2015 crisis is surely the fragmentation of the country’s party system to which the next section is devoted.
Fragmented Party System: The Elephant in the Room

Throughout the African continent, there are four party systems barring the no-party system that exists in the Kingdom of Swaziland, for instance. The first is the one-party system, which used to be the most prevalent system on the continent during the period 1960s-80s. The idea of many parties was considered divisive and posed a threat for unity and nation-building required for socio-economic development. Malawian political economist, Thandika Mkandawire, poignantly observes that
…as soon as African countries attained independence and held their first post-independence elections, many of them pronounced themselves as being a one-party state. The call for ‘One Man One Vote was re-edited so as to read ‘One Man, One Vote, One Time’ (Mkandawire, 2013:26).
Lesotho was no exception to this general continental trend. Following its ‘one man, one vote, one time’ in 1970, Lesotho became the de facto one-party state during the BNP regime between 1970 and 1986.

The 1993 election marked the transition that sounded the death-knell of the one-party state in Lesotho.The second is the two-party system wherein despite the existence of a multiplicity of political parties, only two exercise hegemony over the political system, often rotating their turns as ruling party and main opposition. Lesotho has never experienced a two-party system.The third is the dominant party system whereby despite the existence of various parties, only one dominates the polity on a sustainable basis, wins elections and controls both the executive and legislative branches of the state. Lesotho experienced the dominant-party system under the reign of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, between 1998 and 2012.The fourth is the multi-party system whereby many parties exist and many of them stand a good chance of forming government.

Lesotho has never experienced a multi-party system in the conventional sense of the term. However, the on-set of coalition governments since 2012 may be a harbinger of the multi-party system as it accords all the parties a good chance of joining government through coalition politics.While the on-set of the multi-party system could ordinarily be celebrated as a positive development for democratisation, the downside is that the country’s party system is extremely fragmented.

The latest party splits are currently (at the time of writing this chapter) playing out within the Democratic Congress (DC)—the dominant party in the post-2015 coalition government—and within the LCD—the second largest partner in the current coalition government.The power struggle within the DC, between the party leader who is also the Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, on the one hand, and the majority of the party’s National Executive Committee, NEC, under the leadership of the party’s deputy leader and former Minister of Police, Monyane Moleleki, on the other, is at the heart of the current intra-party strife.

There are basically two factions engaged in a tug-of-war for the soul of the DC. These are Lithope (translated as girlfriends) in support of the DC leader and Prime Minister and Lirurubele (butterflies) in support of the deputy DC Leader and former Minister of Police. Moleleki and his fellow Lirurubele ministers resigned from cabinet and left the government bench in parliament opting to sit in-between the government bench and the opposition bench. The Lirurubele-dominated-NEC, and took the battle to the Lithope faction by suspending the party leader, appointing his deputy as the interim party leader.

Three reasons were advanced by the NEC in suspending the party leader and calling for a disciplinary process namely: (a) disrupting the party constitution and not consulting the Committee in taking major decisions with a bearing on the DC; (b) calling for a special conference of the party without consulting the secretary general of DC in breach of the party constitution; and (c) taking steps to suspend and discipline the NEC in breach of the party constitution. The NEC went to court to interdict the party leader from calling the special conference of the party.

The court dismissed the application giving the party leader the green light to proceed with the special conference. The NEC in turn appealed the judgement and at the time of writing this chapter, the conference was underway and the decision of the Appeal Court is still awaited.

Khabele Matlosa

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