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Poll not likely to stabilise Lesotho
10 March 2015

The short-lived coalition government of Tom Thabane has now been succeeded by a new coalition led by former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili, of the DC party, who had run Lesotho for 14 years before losing to Thabane in the 2012 elections.

Mosisili’s deputy prime minister will be Mothetjoa Metsing, leader of the LCD, whose defection from Thabane’s governing coalition precipitated the political crisis.

That became a security crisis when army chief Tlali Kamoli, loyal to Mosisili and Metsing, briefly overthrew Thabane in a coup on August 30 last year.

Political accords brokered by Cyril Ramaphosa worked, so far as they went. The elections were peaceful. Thabane’s ABC party won more constituencies – 40 out of 80 – than any other party.

But in Lesotho’s complex mixed voting system, Mosisili and Metsing won enough of the extra 40 seats allocated by proportional representation, to overtake Thabane’s coalition with the BNP.

That persuaded a few small parties to side with Mosisili/Metsing to give them a five-seat majority.

A tenuous majority, especially because Metsing is a notoriously unfaithful coalition partner, having ditched Mosisili in 2012 to help Thabane win that election, before dumping him in turn to help Mosisili return to power this year. Watch that space.

Basotho have a rare ability to bend electoral systems to their own peculiar turbulent politics.

Proportional representivity was introduced after the 1998 elections which were conducted entirely on a first-past-the-past constituency basis.

The then ruling LCD won 78 of the 80 seats, despite the opposition having won nearly 40 percent of the vote.

This disproportionality of seats was held to be the underlying cause of the opposition protests against the results which grew into an army mutiny and an incipient coup that was only prevented by a South African military intervention that caused the loss of about 80 lives.

As a result Lesotho introduced a measure of proportional representivity which evolved into the present system where the 40 proportional representation seats are used to ensure that a party’s total number of seats is proportional to its overall vote.

Some have complained that the pendulum has now swung too far the other way.

The electoral system is preventing the emergence of strong governments which are too dependent on fickle coalition partners and this has become a new source of instability. Yet it is hard to see how a new compromise could be found which addresses both representivity and efficiency.

Lesotho’s real problem seems to be its army which has meddled inappropriately in the country’s politics ever since independence. Last week Mosisili and Metsing said they would return Kamoli to his post as army chief.
If that happened, he would almost certainly escape any accountability for the coup and the death or deaths which it caused, as well as for previous acts of political violence.

He is a reckless and dangerous maverick and Thabane and his supporters will not feel safe while he is at the helm. Even some Basotho are now asking whether the country actually needs an army.

Being entirely surrounded by South Africa, it really faces no external military threat. And so the army has instead turned its energies inwards, with disastrous consequences for the country.

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