Lesotho may have very little to offer South Africa apart from water and many – including one of its own political parties – have suggested it would be better off as South Africa’s 10th province.
But what it could very usefully offer the country which completely surrounds it is a voting system.
It’s so-called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system seems to have just served the Basotho well, sparing them, barring miscarriages, from yet another term in office of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who has been at the helm since 1998, and which has clearly been too long for Lesotho’s good.
The country is in desperate straits, with record levels of poverty, unemployment, HIV/Aids infection and hunger, but Mosisili and his cronies have mainly been looking after themselves only.
Lesotho introduced its MMP system under international pressure after the disastrous 1998 elections when the old purely first-past-the-post (FPTP) constituency electoral system gave the opposition just one seat, though it had won 40 percent of the vote.
The political turmoil which ensued prompted a South African military intervention, the death of nine South African and about 65 Basotho soldiers and civilians, and destructive riots.
In the MMP system, 80 constituency seats are contested in FPTP constituency elections, but a further 40 seats are distributed by proportional representation (PR), so as to give each party in the end the total number of seats it would have won if all seats had been allocated in proportion to the national vote each party had won.
The first election under the MMP system in 2002 was a great success as it gave the combined opposition a res-pectable 41 of the 120 seats.
The wily Basotho politicians manipulated the next elections in 2007 by using smaller parties as fronts in the PR ballot, causing political instability.
But then Lesotho ironed out the wrinkles in the system and so the seats allocated after the election on May 26 this year fairly reflected the national support of each party.
Mosisili’s new Democratic Congress (DC) won a slender majority of the 80 FPTP seats, but only 40 percent of the national votes, and so got just 48 of the 120 total seats in parliament.
Tom Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) unexpectedly came second and, with two other parties, commanded a majority of the national votes – and therefore the seats.
Of course, true to personal and national form, Mosisili is trying every trick in the book to stay in office, even threatening to form a “minority government”, which would be tantamount to a coup.
But barring such miscarriages, Thabane will shortly take over as prime minister, and will, one dares hope, bring a measure of honesty, discipline, good governance and economic progress to what has been a poorly governed country.
He is reputed to be honest and humble, lives in a converted cow shed and was demoted by Mosisili when he was his home affairs minister, evidently because he was fighting too hard against corruption and crime.
Lesotho’s MMP system is similar to those in Germany, New Zealand and Mexico, but is believed to be unique in Africa where it has much to offer. Its PR element serves the vital purpose of neutralising gerrymandering of constituencies, so rife on the continent.
In Lesotho that proved fatal to Mosisili and the DC, which largely lost the high-density cities, but would have clung to power by holding on to the rural vote in sparsely populated constituencies in a pure FPTP system.
An MMP system would no doubt have the same effect on Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe and many other countries.
But for South Africa, which has a pure PR system, its benefits would of course be different, adding to Parliament instead the vital missing element of accountability to constituents through an FPTP component, the absence of which has made particularly the ruling party’s MPs indifferent to their voters’ real needs and subservient instead to the interests of the party bosses who decide their positions on the party list. – Daily News Foreign Service