TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI
The Westminster system of government that is the bedrock of executive authority in Lesotho rests on the notion of a model of a strong prime minister vested with massive power, though variations in how the office is organised and operates may exist in the many countries where the system has been adopted.
It is within this system that the new Dr Moeketsi Majoro-led two party coalition government of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC) was on May 11 declared in the National Assembly by Speaker Sephiri Motanyane.
Founded under controversy, this government was touted as the knight in shining armour to liberate a nation from a ruinous regime of former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane. Thabane and his cabinet had been removed from power to usher Majoro in without the need to call an election, engineered by stalwarts in parliament and asserting the ABC legislators as a force that can reject and torpedo their executive committee’s choice of a prime minister. In the run-up to his eventual fall from the prime ministerial seat, Thabane’s detractors had punctured the strong Westminster prime minister model that had buttressed each of Lesotho’s past prime ministers.
And when the Constitution of Lesotho was amended to clip the powers of a sitting prime minister to advise the King to dissolve parliament and call an election in the event of a loss of a vote of confidence, as previously provided for in the constitution, many thought a monster had been slain. They were unaware this was the birth of a new monster; this on the backdrop of an ABC parliamentary caucus appointment of Thabane’s finance minister, Majoro, as successor to the aged premier who had already announced his intention to resign but was forcibly thrust towards the exit door of Qhobosheaneng. Majoro was elevated to the seat by fellow legislators as a compromise candidate to bring together the warring ABC factions that supported Thabane is his rejection of the party’s chosen executive committee, and another of his nemesis and party deputy Professor Nqosa Mahao. The factions had fought for the soul of the party for over a year in court, splitting the fast-growing ABC and juggling its control and centre of power.
This political grouping that had traditionally been controlled by a united executive committee, was now being navigated by its executive committee on one hand; by Thabane in his capacity as leader and prime minister on the other; and by the wishes of its divided masses of supporters while the new-fangled unit – its Members of Parliament (MPs) – inserted its influence as another group that can direct the party’s fortunes, beginning with its very rejection of the executive committee’s choice of a successor to Thabane, Tsoinyana Rapapa. And they were unfortunately allowed!
And relaxed on the strong prime minister model of the Westminster system Thabane’s grip on the control of the party diminished. But by controlling the central direction of policy in government, selecting and firing cabinet ministers and junior ministers held on for some time as those who benefitted from his being there rallied behind him – he eventually succumbed to a strong-willed crusade by his fellow MPs. Given power to dictate terms the ABC MPs welcomed Majoro with a chorus of unpleasentaries and unprintable utterances as each felt they had a right to decide how he formed his government, many having felt they did enough to deserve a seat in his cabinet.
They went as far as summoning him to a meeting to complain, while at the same time hauling the party secretary general to a similar tête-à-tête – disgraceful in my opinion as such moves can simply be translated into outright belligerence that no prime minister should entertain. We all know that new prime ministers typically are strongest immediately following an election though their power and prestige may waner if their government becomes unpopular as has been the case with Prime Minister Thabane, but Majoro’s premiership is not a result of an election, pitting the odds against him as the ABC parliamentary caucus that appointed him believes he is their creation.
And again because he leads a coalition government of many allies it is also worth noting that his political dominance is considerably compromised. The strong prime minister model is admired because it provides clear and decisive political leadership as seen in several European countries such as Germany, Greece, Spain and Sweden where premiers exercise considerable authority, even though the political systems of these countries are quite different from the Westminster model. But a supposedly strong prime minister model, Majoro’s in these few weeks in power has greatly been weakened by allowing his fellow MPs to call the shots and even threaten to collapse his government.
An accusing finger can similarly be pointed at his very party executive committee, with both these centres of power in disarray as is evident. Majoro’s administration seems headed for disaster if these back-bench MPs are not reigned in. Thrust into coalition governments by the country’s dramatically changed political landscape, Majoro leads integrated political parties, and becomes a weak prime minister like all others found in countries where coalition governments are the norm, involving several political parties that must work together to maintain a legislative majority. In the current political climate, Majoro is bound to be less influential, especially when governments have proved to be short-lived as they suffer from deep internal divisions.
The prime minister, we know, has been forced to generally balance representation among the main partners, ABC and the DC, as well as the various coalition allies, doling out cabinet and junior ministerial appointments in numbers sufficient to ensure the support of all the parties within the government – and this makes him weak and vulnerable. Evidently he has had little effective influence over who gets what ministerial role and may be unable to even exert firm control over the direction of policy.
With multiple parties sharing power he will also not have the same direct control over the legislative timetable and may even have to make executive decisions through consensus. Even if the prime minister’s party, the ABC, has a parliamentary majority his power is likely to be reduced by embedded strong internal factions, which are headed by semi-independent leaders as indeed he is being directly challenged in his decision by the group of former ministers in Thabane’s administration who failed to make the cut in the current cabinet.
Majoro, it is indisputable, is not the ABC leader but a compromise figure who was thought would appeal to hold the party factions together, even if it would be only for a short period or until the government encounters a crisis or major problem as has become commonplace in Lesotho politics.The strive within the ABC has, as a result, reduced him to being no more than just the “first among equals” despite being the prime minister, and this is bound to spill into the executive branch, where he might be pushed into merely chairing cabinet discussions and having some power to set government agenda but not really acting as a chief executive.