The Case of Lesotho’s Mixed Member Proportional System

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This article addresses the perennial problem of election-related confl ict in Lesotho and the innovative steps that were taken to arrest the problem in thepreparation of the 2002 poll, prominent among which has been the introduction of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system. Through this model, Lesotho enjoyed a large degree of political stability as almost all parties that contested the poll got representation in the national parliament. However, following the 2007 snap elections, the gains made so far seem to have dissipated; Africa’s fi rst MMP system has collapsed, and the potential for violent confl ict and political instability have been rekindled

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Comparative scholarship suggests that sustainable democracy and conflict management are dependent on the existence of well-functioning political parties and institutionalized party systems. Surprisingly little attention has been given to how to strengthen parties by institutional means. Drawing on Lesotho, this article will discuss two different approaches of political party engineering: electoral system reform and banning party switching in parliament. Since reintroduction of multiparty politics, elections in Lesotho were marked by post-election conflict and violence. Following violent clashes after the elections in 1998 Lesotho adopted a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system to deal with electoral conflicts. The article argues that the introduction of Africa's first MMP system produced an inclusive parliament that mitigates violent conflict and the simultaneous introduction of a regulation of party switching was useful in preventing party system instability and could set an example for democracy building in other post-conflict societies in Africa.
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In nascent democracies, like that in Malawi, with presidential regimes and plurality electoral systems, the emergence of fragmented political party systems is inevitable, characterised by ethnically polarised political behaviour, fragile institutions and minority governments. This ultimately leads to volatile and contentious legislative-executive relations, weak political party cohesion and the stagnation of democratic consolidation. Malawi’s system inherently offers neither incentives for coalition formation nor mutual interdependence between the executive and the legislature. Hence, the latent conflicts, persistent governance crises, inertia and grinding executive-legislative confrontations. Among political actors and across minority regimes in Malawi recourse to coalition politics has not been embraced as an optimal democratic instrument and formal strategy for state governability since 1994. The Mutharika minority government (2004-2009), which was persistently frustrated by parliamentary paralysis, survived on the floor crossing inducements of opposition legislators, extended judicial injunctions and the presidential prorogation of Parliament. In addition, the brief ‘experiments’ with government coalitions, ‘collusions’ and electoral alliances weakened cohesion within partner parties and hardly increased national cohesion, but promoted state governability and yielded marginal gains in democratic consolidation. This article argues that political institutions that are designed to encourage formal political coalitions and discourage floor crossing (parliamentary systems and proportional electoral laws) serve to mitigate against state instability and enhance democratic consolidation.
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