11 August, 2016

Lesotho: Dilemmas of a Coalition System of Governance

by M. K. Mahlakeng

Since 2012, Lesotho has been characterized by coalition systems of governance. Post 26 May 2012 elections, Lesotho witnessed its first ever coalition government. This pact comprised of 3 political parties i.e. the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). This coalition government collapsed after only 2 years in office as a result of poor leadership, and tensions and misunderstandings that occurred between coalition partners (especially between the ABC and LCD). This collapse of government led to the 28 February general snap elections which resulted in a second coalition government comprising of 7 parties, i.e. the Democratic Congress (DC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), Basotho Congress Party (BCP), National Independent Party (NIP), Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).

Coalition governments are political pacts formed in times of crisis in which it becomes evident that a certain action cannot be achieved and/or avoided by working separately. Moreover, coalition governments are a result of splinter parties and/or groups that affect the possibility of one party claiming total majority in elections subsequently forming a government on its own.

Inauguration of PM Mosisili, 2015 (Photo: DoC)

Coalition governments have their own strengths and challenging weaknesses. What is advantageous for coalition governments is that, having to share mandate leads to broader representation and greater scrutiny of policy-making. However, disadvantageous to this form of governance is the conflict that may occur due to conflicting ideologies leading to policy standstills thus affecting the stability and functioning of government. One complex and detrimental issue in coalition governments is dependency which subsequently creates a “one size fits all” way of life, meaning “your problems and worries become my problems and worries”. This disadvantageous dilemma is true for Lesotho as it was evident in the collapse of the 2012 coalition government, and has resurfaced to challenge the current coalition government.

The major partner in the current political pact (i.e. the DC), is faced with issues threatening the stability of the party itself and of the government as a whole. The issue that is currently accumulating pressure on the stability of the party and government is central to the leadership of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and his grip to power. Despite his grip to power resulting in infightings in his party, however, the PM has shown little signs of relinquishing power, a common notion across the African continent. Undoubtedly, his display of arrogance emanates from him being more than a decade in power. Mosisili has been a PM for 14 years (as the then leader of LCD before its split in early 2012 leading to the formation of the DC) from May 1998 to June 2012 before his defeat to the ABC-led coalition government. It is however important to note that, what has also added to his long stay in power is the ineffectiveness of his deputies (starting in the LCD and now in the DC), at the face of endorsement by a majority of party members, to stand out and outright contest the position of leadership.

His grip on power has resulted in vicious factions within the party mainly characterised by succession quarrels. On the one hand, one grouping has made calls for him to step down opting for his deputy in the DC, Monyane Moleleki, to be his successor. While on the other hand, another group is standing firmly behind him. This infighting, although not intensely evident at the moment, places immense pressure on the stability of the DC, but more importantly, on the stability of the governing coalition. Having led two governments to-date, it is easy to argue that he can become a key source of advice to the administration of his party and of government even after his resignation.

One thing is certain. With his continued arrogance, he will face a motion of no-confidence in his party resulting into a political marginalization of him and his loyalists thus affecting, among others, patronage. What is left to be seen however, is whether he will attempt to split once again from the DC, one usual stunt in Lesotho and one of his common traits perhaps inherited from the former PM Ntsu Mokhehle. For instance, in 1997 Ntsu Mokhehle, founder and leader of the BCP since 1952, initiated a split from the BCP, facing pressure from within his party (this split resulted into the political turmoil that witnessed a fumbled South African-led intervention in 1998 commonly known as “Operation Boleas”), thus leading to the formation of the LCD. Mosisili later took the leadership role of the LCD and similarly split from the LCD in 2012 to form the DC also facing pressure from within the LCD. This clearly overrides the illusion that individuals are loyal to their parties to a point of accepting defeat. However, if a split should be the case, then the current governing coalition won’t see the light of day.

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