Dilemma of coalitions
The dilemma of coalition governments was once again brought to the fore in the recent discord that hit the coalition government in Lesotho.
The three parties, which make up the government in the mountain kingdom, were at loggerheads following disagreements stemming from a power tussle.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) formed a coalition administration after the May 26, 2012, elections failed to produce an outright majority winner to enable a one-party government.
The other members of the coalition were angered by what they alleged to be Prime Minister Thabane’s unilateral decisions, in violation of the agreement, which established the unity government.
The LCD threatened to forge a new alliance and force the Prime Minister out of the government.
In response, Prime Minister Thabane, with the blessings of King Letsie III, suspended Parliament for nine months.
This means the disgruntled coalition partners cannot forge any new alliance because Parliament will not sit until February next year.
And with elections not due until 2017, questions have been raised as to how the shaky union between the three parties will hold given the recent developments.
Although the three partners have given assurances that all is well with their union, the disharmony has created doubts.
This prompted the Southern Development Community and the Christian Council of Lesotho to step in and mediate.
The political developments in Lesotho reminds the SADC region and other watchers of the problems that used to dog the government of national unity in Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, ZANU (PF) and two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations formed the inclusive government following disputed elections in 2008. President Robert Mugabe was the head of the coalition government with Morgan Tsvangirai serving as Prime Minister while Arthur Mutambara of the smaller MDC formation was Deputy Prime Minister.
The Zimbabwean coalition government was fraught with disunity at the expense of government business and service delivery to the people. President Mugabe often bemoaned the failure of the inclusive government to serve the nation as differences over policies derailed government programmes.
The Zimbabwean coalition government ended last year after ZANU (PF) won resoundingly the July harmonised elections with a crushing majority enabling the revolutionary party to form a government on its own.
Since 2012, the Lesotho coalition partners had been trudging on until the recent dispute. Following the suspension of Parliament the leader of the LCD and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing came out guns blazing.
He intimated forming an alliance with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC), led by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili who lost in the 2012 elections.
The disagreements in Zimbabwe would sometimes require the SADC-appointed mediator President Jacob Zuma of South Africa to help the parties resolve or the leaders of the parties resolved them on their own. The Monday meetings between the principals of the Zimbabwean parties became the forum where teething problems were ironed out.
And the pattern has been the same in Lesotho where SADC chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia travelled to the country to help resolve the current dispute.
The Basotho leaders also met among themselves to thrash out their differences with internal mediators helping them find each other. Anglican Bishop of Lesotho Adam Taaso was part of the mediation team.
Inevitably the uncertainty surrounding the coalition government in Lesotho has sparked debate in the country with some observers suggesting it would scare away foreign investors and donors who fund a large chunk of the country’s budget.
However, other commentators begged to differ at least according to media reports from Lesotho.
The Lesotho Labour Council – a federation of workers’ unions ‑ was one of the organisations worried about the uncertainty in government.
“The council fears if the situation is not redressed as a matter of urgency, workers in particular and the nation in general, would ultimately pay the price,” the Sunday Express reported recently.
In a statement, the council expressed its fears: “The labour force is worried by the unstable atmosphere that hinders government development frameworks designed to advance people’s interests.”
The council was also worried that the Job Summit due to be held in Lesotho later this year might be cancelled should political tension escalate.
“There are a lot of good initiatives that are going to fall through due to the events taking place. Basotho are going to lose a lot. There is no doubt we are faced with dire and selfish political squabbles by those who do not have the interest of the wellbeing of the people at heart,” the statement added.
However, some analysts allayed the fears saying the situation was not as bad. Political and economic analyst Arthur Majara, quoted in the Sunday Express, said the suspension of Parliament did not render the country unstable and foreign investors had nothing to worry.
“The situation is not out of control. Most of our foreign investors are Asians who are running textile factories. Many of them were already here in 1998 when the country was plunged into political turmoil. But they stayed. They do not have a reason to run now.”
Another commentator Majakathatha Mokoena said foreign investors would only worry if there was no rule of law in the country.
“The situation would raise concern if it was to last for the rest of the nine months that the Prime Minister had called for the prorogation of Parliament,” he said.
“The situation now is democratic. But that will not take away the concerns or fears of the foreign investors and donors. It is extremely important that the status quo is maintained so that we do not lose the confidence of those people. We all know that a huge part of our fiscal budget depends on them,” Mokoena said.
The parties in the coalition have since agreed to continue working together following the talks. Prime Minister Thabane told the media the coalition arrangement remained intact.
His partners in the administration Metsing and BNP leader Thesele Maseribane concurred. Metsing told his party supporters the coalition was “ably standing”.
“The coalition government still stands and shall remain in power until 2017,” leader of the Basotho National Party Maseribane told AFP.
“Just like any marriage things will have to be worked out every now and then,” he said.
“We still have to iron out a few things that pertain to the actual day-to-day working, but as things stand the coalition stands.”
In a public show of unity, the Prime Minister held a national rally which was also attended by all the leaders of the government.
AFP quoted his spokesperson saying: “It is true there are problems but those problems are being addressed and shall continue being dealt with until a resolution is found.”
“All in all, they have agreed to work together again,” said Taaso, but “I don't think they will go through to 2017.”
“We are working under a very serious crisis, even though they have promised to work together,” he said.
Lesotho is no stranger to political crisis.
In 1986, South Africa's apartheid government instigated a coup to prevent the country being used as a base by the African National Congress and other activists.
In 1998, following election riots, South Africa and Botswana embarked on an ill-fated invasion that reduced the capital to rubble.
In recent decades there have been a series of attempted political assassinations.
But the last elections in 2012 passed off relatively peacefully, with three major parties forging a coalition.
At the time of writing further consultations were expected to take place among the coalition partners.