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Analysts slam “destabilising” floor crossing

  • demand constitutional amendments to stop the practice

Staff Reporter

IF it was not for its destabilising effects on government and service delivery, Lesotho’s politics of floor crossing would probably be a welcome source of comic relief from the numerous socio-economic challenges confronting the country.

Cartoonists and satirists would have a field day lampooning the likes of legislators Sello Mooki (Bobatsi constituency) and Mokherane Tsatsanyane (Stadium Area) who ditched the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) for the opposition Monyane Moleleki-led Alliance of Democrats (AD).

Messrs Mooki and Tsatsanyane are among 53 ABC legislators who endorsed the collapse of the former four parties’ coalition and the subsequent formation of the Moeketsi Majoro-led coalition anchored by the ABC and the Democratic Congress (DC).

The new coalition came into existence on 20 May 2020. The duo was among the MPs who had supported its formation as a transitional government to stabilise the country, fight Coronavirus (Covid-19) and implement long overdue multi-sector reforms.

But it did not take long for the duo to sacrifice those lofty aspirations at the altar of self-interest. Barely a fortnight after the new government’s formation, Messrs Mooki and Tsatsanyane ditched the ABC for the AD.

At least they were honest enough to inform the nation that they were aggrieved that ABC legislator and Prime Minister Majoro overlooked them and other ABC legislators for cabinet appointments. They were particularly aggrieved that cabinet posts “which should have been for ABC members” were given to Basotho National Party (BNP and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leaders.

BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane retained his post as Communications, Science and Technology minister while his party deputy, Machesetsa Mofomobe, was moved from his previous post of deputy Home Affairs minister to deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations.

RCL leader Keketso Rantšo retained her Labour and Employment portfolio. Messrs Mooki and Tsatsanyane said the appointment of BNP and RCL leaders was uncalled for as the ABC and its DC ally had enough numbers (79 seats out of 120) to form government on their own. They said instead of appointing the BNP and RCL leaders, Dr Majoro should have rewarded ABC MPs who had toiled to get rid of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane last month.

In a comical about-turn, Mr Tsatsanyane even spoke of his nostalgia for the ‘halcyon days’ under Mr Thabane who appointed him deputy minister of Public Works in the previous government.

Under Dr Majoro’s new administration, he was no longer in cabinet and had reverted to an ordinary backbencher.

Even though he had supported the advent of Dr Majoro, he however could not stomach the fact that the latter had overlooked him and other ABC legislators in favour of BNP and RCL leaders.

“No wonder former opposition South African politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi coined an unflattering epithet to describe legislators like Mooki and Mokherane who suddenly cross the floor to join rival parties in parliament,” said an analyst who spoke to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity.

“He called such people “crosstitutes”. The former Inkatha Freedom Party leader had correctly observed that such legislators are no different from prostitutes who cast aside morality and principles to sell themselves to whoever offers them powerful posts and material riches,” the analyst added.

Mr Buthelezi coined the “crosstitutes” epithet during the 1990s days when the South African constitution still allowed MPs to jump ship without losing their seats. His and other opposition parties often suffered after elections as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) habitually enticed some of their legislators to cross over to it in exchange for posts in government and financial rewards.

Floor crossing in South Africa was eventually outlawed through a constitutional amendment which came into effect on 9 January 2009.

However, floor crossing remains a common feature of Lesotho’s politics. As the cases of Messrs Mooki and Tsatsanyane show, it is often driven by disgruntlement when one fails to land an appointment to cabinet or some other lucrative post in government.

Messrs Mooki and Tsatsanyane were unmoved by the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC)’s argument that the BNP and RCL appointments were necessary to achieve stability as the two parties were traditional allies of the ABC.

The duo packed their bags for the AD and warned that more disgruntled ABC legislators were also considering defecting.

“Think of it as a case of cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face as it is not possible at this juncture for the AD- an opposition party- to satisfy the duo’s quest for higher political office,” said another analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The analyst condemned the “self-serving” behaviour of the duo. He and fellow analysts said floor-crossing could destabilise the ABC-DC coalition and divert its focus from the more pressing issues of service delivery and implementation of the long overdue reforms.

They said the “mercenary” tendencies of Messrs Mooki, Tsatsanyane and their ilk was reason enough for Lesotho to emulate South Africa and amend the constitution to prevent floor crossing.

Local analyst and academic Siphiwo Mseti is opposed to floor crossing. In his aptly titled article, “Floor-crossing a bane for democracy”, he says unless Lesotho amends the constitution to outlaw floor crossing, the practice will destabilise governments.

“South Africa has passed legislation outlawing floor-crossing.   MPs can no longer hold onto their seats if they leave the party on whose ticket they came into parliament,” Mr Mseti wrote.

“Lesotho should follow South Africa and outlaw floor crossing as it threatens the existence and stability of political parties whose members are poached by other parties,” he said in a subsequent interview with this publication.

National University of Lesotho (NUL) political science lecturer Moletsane Monyake weighed in on the debate, saying the defections of Messrs Mooki and Tsatsanyane proved that the ABC had still not solved its internal problems despite ousting Mr Thabane from government.

He said by appointing BNP and RCL leaders to cabinet, “Dr Majoro has given his ABC detractors ammunition to attack him and test his leadership skills”.

He however, said even if there were legitimate grievances regarding the appointment of BNP and RCL leaders, floor-crossing was not the way to go.

He said the practice should be stopped because it destabilised government and diverted attention from more pressing concerns like service delivery. Also, voters were short-changed in that they would now be represented by a party they did not choose.

He said the trend had to be stopped through the enactment of laws providing for by-elections to be held once MPs crossed the floor to join another party.

“Hopefully this issue (floor-crossing) will be dealt with in the reforms process when the constitutional reforms are implemented,” he said.

Political scientist and former NUL lecturer, Kopano Makoa, said floor-crossing was a “nuisance” because it destabilised governments instead of brining stability after a period of turmoil.

Professor Makoa said in most cases those who ditched their parties were enticed with various inducements by parties like the AD which was booted out of government at the formation of the new coalition.

He said Messrs Mooki and Tsatsanyane probably had “a carrot dangled in their faces by the AD leader (former Deputy Prime Minister Moleleki)” who was left out in the cold after the formation of the ABC-DC coalition.

“Floor-crossing is not good for any country as it not only erodes development but also allows a party to have parliamentary seats even where it had been rejected by voters. The constitution must be amended to provide for by-elections whenever people defect to allow people choose the party they want to represent them,” he said.

Even Zimbabwe which is not a paragon of democracy acknowledges that floor crossing is unfair on the electorate and therefore does not allow the practice.  A parliamentary seat becomes vacant the minute a legislator ditches the party which elected him and by-elections are held.

As long as Lesotho does not amend its constitution to stop the practice, floor crossing will always be used by disgruntled politicians to destabilise governments for selfish reasons. Instability will reign at the expense of service delivery. When that happens, the ordinary people will be the biggest losers.

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