06 February, 2017

Lesotho Splinter Parties: Cause and Effect

by M. K. Mahlakeng

Since the emergence of political parties, there has always been a challenge of “splinter parties”. Splinter parties are “small organisations, typically, a political party, that have broken away from a larger political party”. And the reason, as it has been for many years, for parties to split and subsequently lead to the formation of a totally new party has always been ideological.

However, this typical thinking has proved to limit the understanding of the political cycle and politicians that entertain it. Two other reasons have emerged as contemporary causes of splinter parties. Firstly, it has become a common notion that disputes between a party leader and one of his subordinates or possible successors would result in the emergence of factions within the party thus leading to either of them abandoning the party to form a new political organisation. In numerous instance, party leaders, fearing that they might be ousted out of power by their subordinates or possible successor, tend to make it impossible for the latter to survive within the party solely to force him out of the party. As a result, leaving the subordinate and/or successor to leave with his supporters and eventually forming a new party.

Secondly, the decision of many politicians to split from the mother body and form a new political organisation can also be closely linked to the greed of politicians. Politicians have often been seen to pursue the formation of a new party as a result of acquiring a seat in parliament solely because this translates to a monthly cheque as opposed to pursuing perceived party policies. However, these two reasons are not to say ideological differences are not central to the divisions within political parties, but, they have rather become secondary.

The problem that comes with splinter parties is two-fold. Firstly, these new parties tend to experience and identity and/or ideological crisis. This is often reflected by their manifestos, party regalia etc. Secondly, splinter groups increase the number of already existing parties in a specific country. Although perceived by many to be a sign of a healthy democratic practice, however, they cause more instability than they attempt to prevent. This leads to the division of electorate votes thus failing to establish a party as a dominant party. Hence, eventually the emergence of “coalition systems of governance” or “power-sharing governments”.

Chinese Lesotho project Lesotho Parliament II
The Lesotho Parliament. By OER Africa  [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The case of Lesotho, among other cases, provides the best example in which all these conditions hold. That is, it is confronted by the challenge of splinter parties as a result of factions within a party as a result of political contestation and/or greed. For instance, in less than two months between end of November 2016 and early January 2017, three splinter parties were born. First, Alliance of Democrats (AD) led by former Democratic Congress (DC) Deputy Leader Mr Monyane Moleleki is a break-away party from the DC.

Second, Movement for Economic Change (MEC) led by former Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) secretary-general Mr Selibe Mochoboroane is a break-away party from the LCD. And third, True Reconciliation Unity (TRU) former All Basotho Convention (ABC) Deputy Leader Mr. Tlali Khasu is a break-away party from the ABC. In addition, these splinter parties suffer from an identity and/or ideological crisis. Furthermore, splinter parties have divided the electorates’ votes thus shifting Lesotho’s political landscape from a dominant-party system of governance to a coalition system of governance.

This challenge of splinter parties in Lesotho is not a new phenomenon and can be traced as far back as 1997 when the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) (which led Lesotho to multiparty democratic rule in 1993 to 1998) split and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) was formed and led Lesotho from 1998 to 2012. And it didn’t end there. The LCD split four times in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2017 and led to the formation of the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), All Basotho Convention (ABC), Democratic Congress (DC) and Movement for Economic Change (MEC) respectively. Furthermore the ABC (which led Lesotho from 2012 to 2015 in a coalition government with the Basotho National Party (BNP) and LCD) and DC (currently leading Lesotho since 2015 in a coalition government with LCD, Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), BCP, National Independent Party (NIP), LPC and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD)) faced splinter parties respectively. The former split and saw the formation of TRU and the latter saw the formation of AD.

The emergence of these splinter parties in Lesotho has caused a division of votes as far as every party is concerned ultimately giving rise to power-sharing systems of governance. Subsequently, they are largely responsible for the leadership and stability crisis experienced today in Lesotho.

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