Small political parties face scraping off

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By ‘Majirata Latela

Political parties which fail to secure a seat in the National Assembly after receiving less than 500 votes in the October general elections face the possibility of being removed from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) register.

This was confirmed by law and justice minister Lekhetho Rakuoane, who said it is in line with the new National Assembly Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 which, among others, establishes a threshold for a political party which intends to contest for proportional representation elections and cancelation of the registration of a political party which failed to obtain at least 500 votes in the general elections.

According to the Bill, which amends the National Assembly Elections Act 0f 2011, “A political party intending to contest proportional representation elections shall qualify for a seat if it has obtained at least 0.5% of all valid votes cast as indicated…

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“The political party whose registration was cancelled … may apply to be re-registered after a period of five years from the date on which its registration was cancelled.”

It also makes provision for the amendment of the 2011 law to provide for the archiving of the current electors’ register, expediting the registration of electors, ensuring that all eligible electors are allowed to register and vote using the National Identity document.

Rakuoane told theReporter this week: “When the Bill becomes law, the parties that fail to secure 0.5 percent of the vote and at least 500 votes in the upcoming elections will be relegated.

“However, this is not yet conclusive as the final threshold will be determined by parliament before passing the law. Relegating a party means deregistering it; it will be eligible to register again after five years.”

According to political analyst Professor Motlamelle Kapa, the new Bill will not a have significant impact on the political landscape. The 0.5 percent threshold will be determined by the number of voters. A small number of voters means more small parties will get a chance to get to parliament but a bigger number of voters means reduced small parties in parliament.

“There is a minimal effect on the political land scape unlike in New Zealand where the section has been learned from where the threshold is 5 percent.

“Having many small parties in parliament is not beneficial at all because they make it difficult for the formation of coalition governments without any clear service delivery. We have seen in the past the formation of coalition with small parties and how difficult it was to run a government will all the seven parties. It was difficult for the other big parties in the coalition to demand service delivery from those small parties.

“Not only that. Having many different parties in parliament has not brought any change in service delivery. We have seen in this country where we have different representation in parliament but still there is lack of service delivery,” Kapa said.

He said the quality of democracy does not change with the number of parties that are represented in parliament but rather results in fragmented parties. It is even better we have very few parties. He also added that all parties big and small have the same policy positions, they all talk about how they will grow the economy and curb unemployment, but most of them do not have clear roadmaps of how they will achieve all that.

“On the flip side, the benefit of having many political parties in parliament is that the minorities are guaranteed a voice.”

These sentiments were echoed by political analyst Dr Tlohang Letsie, who said the amendment is likely to affect the political landscape by only reducing the number of parties which do not have enough followership.

“Fewer parties in parliament means there is going to be some sense of stability. It is a good move because currently we are having unreasonably many parties with similar policies. Even the existing small parties are going to lose hoping when they see the threshold because they know very well that they cannot reach that quota.

“This may also have an effect in the mushrooming political parties, many people form political parties knowing very well that they will not even get one constituency, they are just looking at getting in parliament with the PR seats and this will make people reluctant to form parties,” Letsie said.

Letsie also added that on the financial implications, many parties mean Lesotho will have to spend more money to prepare for the elections rather than when there were a few political parties. He said Lesotho is one of a few countries in Africa which supports political parties with funding.

“It also poses logistical challenges such as printing a two page-ballot paper rather than a single-page ballot paper with only big parties. Then there is the issue of party agents to factor in; imagine 60 party agents in crammed in a single polling station…”

Twenty-seven of the 33 registered parties contested the 2017 elections. The number of registered parties currently stands at 60.

Speaking to this publication this week, Sankatana Social Democracy leader, Lehlohonolo Tšehlana, said his party is still going to contest for 2022 elections. His party could only manage 246 votes which translated to 0.04 percent of the overall valid votes in 2017. He is aware that his party and others which did not get enough votes in the last poll are facing cancellation when the National Assembly Elections (Amendment) Bill becomes law.

He said if the amendments are all from National Reforms Authority, then he fully supports the Bill and wishes that parliament could pass it because NRA has done a very good job of making sure that what the nation has asked for is done.

White Horse Party leader, Mohau Thakaso whose party obtained 139 seats or 0.02 percent of the national vote in 2017, also agreed that the Bill is going to affect them, but there is nothing they can do except to work hard and make sure that their parties get enough votes. He said wooing people to vote for a party needs funding to hold rallies in all the districts, but his party does not have such a financial muscle.

However, neither of the two politicians could say what motivates them to contest elections despite admitting to not having a realistic chance of making any significant impact numerically.   

theReporter spoke to ordinary people on the streets to get their opinions about the Bill. Taxi driver, Mohale Tšotetsi said, if the amendment is going to minimize the number of parties in Lesotho, he fully supports it. He said many people now form parties without knowing how much work it takes to grow a party.

He said many parties are just there to gobble public funds, fade into near-oblivion after elections, only to resurface when it’s election time again.

On the one hand, ‘Mamosa Matebesi said he is not aware of the Bill and is not interested in Lesotho’s politics because the political landscape has been corroded by the formation of so many parties. “I really do not understand why so many people are interested in forming political parties. Maybe it is high time Lesotho adopts American style where there are only two political parties.”