The case for the congress electoral alliance

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THIS article stems from the 11 May 2017 article in the Lesotho Times by Professor Mafa Sejanamane titled “Has the DC committed political suicide?”

In the article, Prof Sejanamane opines that the electoral pact between the Democratic Congress (DC) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) would fail. In fact, he concluded that the agreement was tantamount to political suicide for the DC even before the 3 June 2017 election.

I vehemently disagree with him as will be explained below. Prof Sejanamane cited the split from the DC by members who formed the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the split from the LCD by members who formed the Movement for Economic Change (MEC).

Prof Sejanamane also cited what he termed “the fast growth” of the All Basotho Convention (ABC). Lastly, he also forecasted an electoral doom scenario for the DC-LCD Alliance.

The professor raised very interesting points although he was constrained by his partisanship. I must state from the outset that I will not descent into partisan arguments. I will venture straight into political science arguments in relation to the aforementioned postures.

The value of comparison lies with human action to strive to understand the phenomena or a paradigm in different respects. In fact, Landman (2000), puts it as a natural human activity geared towards establishing facts relating to human activity, “from antiquity to the present, generations of humans have sought to understand and explain the similarities and differences they perceive between themselves and others. In short, to compare is to be human”[1].These important points are very crucial when comparing political alliances such as the DC-LCD pact as postulated by Prof Sejanamane. He claims that the formation of this alliance is motivated by perceived weaknesses that both parties have observed rather than perceived strength. The postulation of the Sejanamane thesis is wanting because it does not reveal all sides of the story.

An alliance or coalition government is a mechanism through which willing parties come together to lead the nation. Their agreement is usually based on a shared policy agreement they want to pursue in government. These types of governments or rather alliances consist of two or more political parties who must compromise on principles and shared mandates to govern the country. For example, all Belgian cabinets since 1954 have been coalitions of two or more parties with more than merely a bare majority of legislative seats. In other words, alliance parties work on mutual trust and agreed procedures which foster collective decision making and responsibility while respecting each party’s identity.

Nnoli (1986) argued that coalition governments are characterised by three distinct features; firstly, that the legal framework that exists between three or more parties, secondly, the high degree of fragmentary electoral basis of each of these three or more political parties, finally, the world has witnessed several coalitions since World War II. Italians, for instance have or have had more than 20 coalition governments since the above period. Nigeria also has, since 1954, seen most governments based on one form of coalition or the other. Since 1954, alliances were not only formed during or after elections but during political crises as well as during World War II from 1931-1940 in Great Britain. So the argument that the DC and LCD formed an alliance because of their perceived weaknesses does not necessarily hold water. The alliance is simply a political strategy and the acknowledgement and acceptance of political realignment in the political sphere within the electorate.

Parties need to adapt to changing political, economic and social circumstances if they have to survive in a liberal democracy. The DC and LCD are therefore not an exception to this change. There are a plethora of examples of political party decay and failures as a consequence of the inability to perform satisfactorily which drives the parties to change. Parties need to appeal to a broad constituency of voters. The DC-LCD strategy is akin to this very approach and, therefore, it is grossly unfair to demonise them for their strategy. In fact, theirs is a perfect strategy in our liberal democracy. This strategy is neither naïve nor suicidal as argued by the article but it is the best strategy geared towards maximizing the two parties’ electoral strength.

There’s the issue of the voter turnout in the 3 June election. In all possibility, this might rubbish the professor’s analysis. It is not known how many Congress ideology supporters will be wooed back to the movement if there’s a possibility that it can regroup. It is a sentimental issue close to Congress diehards’ hearts. Therefore, the coming together of Congress parties may be the masterstroke that opponents fear most. The Congress rallies are very impressive so far. Both the leaders of Congress parties are animated and breathing fire, that’s what supporters want in a leader. In fact, the resurgence of the congress movement, as seen in current rallies, point us in this direction. The Congress movement is emerging with a thunderous lightning speed.

Lesotho’s MMP system

Lesotho uses a Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR) electoral system or what is known as the Compensatory Model. This electoral system is founded on the principle that governments are formed by an agreement of willing parties. These parties’ main interest is to influence government policies and programmes in the direction favoured by their political philosophies.  Since Lesotho is using the MMPR electoral system, it became inevitable that the room for coalition governments and alliance is created. This was seen after the 2008 elections when the LCD and National Independent Party formed an undeclared coalition government.

Coalitions have been a successful concept in other countries as well. Examples include the so-called rainbow government consisting of five or even more contrasting political parties from all sides, such as the left and right wing parties. In fact, the European countries have a long and vibrant history of coalition governments. This can be seen by the proportional electoral systems that most of these countries have adopted. The 2011 British coalition government between the Conservative and Liberal Democrats is a case in point of a successful coalition formed on trust and respect, consultation and shared political mandate.

The Australian governing party alliance demonstrates that coalitions can be run efficiently and a preferred option to a minority government. The important aspects of alliances are that, they provide major policy scrutiny when political players work together and the net results have proved beneficial to the broader electorate. They have much more legitimacy and democratic representation. This is because alliances share a broader mandate, which leads to broader representation. The DC-LCD Alliance are therefore motivated by these principles.

Fragmentation of DC-LCD into AD and MEC

Prof Sejanamane’s article made the claim that a significant portion of both DC and LCD members have joined the AD and MEC. He, however, did not provide any statistics. The question is how statistically significant is this portion? Does this mean if any party convenes a music festival all those who attended that extravaganza are really its members? ABC holds these festivals all the time. It is also likely that instead of hemorrhaging loyal Congress loyalists, the AD and MEC have energised the youth. The latter may have registered in droves to join the new parties. There’s also a possibility that the AD has attracted a lot of ABC youths if the support shown by ABC youths during the internal DC fights is anything to go by, including the youth’s support during the launch of the AD. We all know that the latter does not hold. We can only know about this after the 3 June voting. Since this argument is too simplistic and without facts, we will leave it here and pass to another important point raised by this article.

ABC growth thesis

While the article argued that the ABC was growing at an alarming rate, the case presented to justify this argument is weak and lacks statistical analysis. It would appear that the article inadvertently did not factor several important issues in 2014/15 which portrayed ABC as a rapidly growing political party. Among those factors which were exploited by the party was the use of the incumbency which was a tactical masterstroke for the ABC then. Since the ABC is not in power currently, to what extend can we still argue that the party is growing? Has the party been able to sustain its growth in the past two years while it was still in the opposition? These are some of the issues that need to be explored.

The ABC increased its popularity because it was in power and its leader flouted all the accepted electoral norms and values. The party abused its power status and distributed food with impunity for all and sundry as it is doing currently. After recently winning a vote-buying case on spurious circumstances by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Tribunal, the party has accelerated its violation of the code of conduct by distributing food and other items amongst voters, now that, the Tribunal has given it a green light to act with impunity. Surely, these actions cannot increase their growth.

By crying foul of the DC’s Serialong Qoo while on the other hand ABC is flouting electoral ethics by buying votes indicates that former PM Thomas Thabane is not the type to observe international conventions. We can recall in the past when Dr Thabane signed five SADC international agreements and subsequently failed to abide by them, that’s where his strength lies. He’s a bruiser. It remains to be seen whether the voters will still regard this illegal behavior of the ABC in a credible light. The question is, can we really believe that these illegal actions will sustain its past growth or rather, whether it is flouting these elections norms after realizing a major drop of its supporters now that it is not in power?

Some of the strategies that the ABC used when it was in power were quite bizarre to say the least. The party has never discussed issues, but more often than not, it popularized threats to castrate people and threatened Judges for not convicting people whom the ABC viewed to have violated the law. The party used the police to harass the people. Cases of The Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecution are glaring examples of the ABC impunity and lawlessness. In some cases, it was alleged that Police during Thabane’s era, used to offer voters some money to vote for ABC. In order to cultivate an image of a strong party to gain popularity, it did not only use the police to violate national laws, but used them to campaign for the party together with some chiefs who used to advise their communities to vote for it. Strangely, the army was not coopted into these ABC tactics. But instead, it was demonised as an institution which did not want to be subordinated to civilian rule. The ABC portrayed themselves as victims of marauding soldiers who are refusing to take orders from the government of the day. All these were done to increase the party’s popularity.

Furthermore, the disagreement that emerged within the ABC-led government was used to castigate Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing as a corrupt official who accepted bribes. Mr Metsing was castigated and his persona was portrayed by the ABC as an embodiment of congress corruption. The party used scare tactics that Mr Metsing was against His Majesty, using some senior chiefs and nongovernmental organisations to demean him. All these actions were done in order to gain popularity. The question now is; how sustainable have these activities been in the past two years? Can we say that the ABC has been able to sustain this momentum in opposition?

While portraying Mr Metsing as corrupt, Dr Thabane gave the Gupta brothers from South Africa, Lesotho diplomatic passports and appointed them as ambassadors. His son is alleged to have registered more than 20 bogus companies. It will be seen how the strategy of self-exile will be used to benefit this party. Many believe that Dr Thabane provided a number of tenders to business friends during his tenure and it is now pay back time. The number of new vehicles and resources he commands currently is amazing. Can all these deeds boost its popularity?

The strength of the ABC

The article goes at length to indicate how strong the ABC is as a party is as opposed to the declining DC which he claimed had been swallowed by the LCD. Similarly, like the growth thesis of the ABC this argument is very weak. A strong party is portrayed by its overwhelming confidence and zeal. If indeed the ABC is growing and is a strong party, why is it that whenever it convene a rally, the party has to bring many supporters from all over the country just to attend one constituency rally?

What will happen on election day since every voter will be in his or her own constituency? Will the ABC still manage to move them around? This is one of the weakest strategies to be deployed by a political party said to be growing from strength to strength.

If indeed the ABC is growing and confident about itself, why is the party so afraid of elections? In a democracy, every political party jumps for the opportunity to contest elections. As we have seen recently, the ABC and its partners in opposition were not amused by the call for elections. They have been trying all sorts of things to block elections. The ABC has even gone overboard by buying votes in order to poison the election environment. It has used the unfortunate death of Brigadier Mahao, the army, and blocking the national budget in parliament in order to stop elections. It went to the Constitutional Court in vain still trying to block elections. Surely, a growing and a confident political party does not act the way the ABC and its opposition partners have been acting. Why are these parties so afraid of elections? These are not the actions of a growing party confident of election victory and ready to govern. These are actions of a weak and undemocratic party afraid of elections and not tactics of a growing political party.

 Political realignment vs de-alignment

The fact of the matter is that from 1998 to 2012, the Congress parties have experienced a period of political de-alignment whereby a portion of the electorate abandoned its previous partisan affiliation, without developing a new one to replace the old with.

The DC, LCD and other congress parties were able to form government together in 2015. It was a clear case of political realignment.  This means that there has been a change in voting behavior. Voters are more interested in voting for a political party and abandoning other none congress parties as witnessed by the 2015 elections. During this time, all congress parties were voted into parliament and of course, together were able to form a government. This dramatic electoral realignment was inescapable to most political scientists.

A quick analysis of the 2015 electoral statistic will reflect that the ABC won more constituencies as a consequence of the DC-LCD de-alignment. This is another clear motivation of the LCD-DC alliance that can be observed. The concept of political realignment and de-alignment in political science is very crucial.  The politics of the United States of America and that of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland are very inductive. It is very inaccurate to perceive the DC-LCD alliance as the alliance of the weak not the alliance of the strong based on principle.

Just look at the ABC, AD, RCL and BNP alliance. You will notice that in the following constituencies; Mahobong, Tsoelike, Mount-Moorosi and Taung, each of these parties have a candidate in all four of them. They claimed to be in an alliance but they are still competing against each other. This is not an alliance based on principle but fallacy. They claimed that they wanted the leaders of the LCD and DC to get into parliament through the compensatory system not constituency. What’s the difference? They will still vote in Parliament and still be voted for and earn same benefits as other members of parliament.

Conclusion.

Let me conclude by observing that the DC-LCD alliance is the best thing that has happened to the congress movement in Lesotho. The movement has been able to develop Lesotho more than any political formation since independence. The voters’ enthusiasm in the country is indicative of the fact that they see more prosperous Lesotho in the next 50 years. From the 4th June 2017, the country will witness one of the most momentous electoral victories ever seen in Lesotho by the DC/LCD alliance.

[1] Todd Landman (2000), Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics An Introduction. Rutledge London, P 4.

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