The MMP electoral system faces political challenges in Lesotho.
Selecting the electoral system that best suits a given country is a delicate balancing act (as is explored in depth in the ACE Encyclopaedia). Countries must balance many competing values, including accurate representation of their populations and government effectiveness (should a multitude of very small groups elect representatives, the legislative branch might find itself unable to form a coalition large enough to actually enact proposed laws).
Over the past 10 years, Lesotho has been struggling with exactly these challenges. Its government hopes it has found the solution in a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, which combines elements of first-past-the-post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR) systems. In comparison with other systems, MMP electoral systems are said to keep legislators more accountable to the electorate and to maximise the representativeness of the legislature. However, doubt was cast on Lesotho's 2007 elections as the result of political infighting, and its MMP system may need further reform before it can fulfil its promise of better political accountability and representation.
The Prompt for Change
Following its independence from Britain in the 1960s, Lesotho inherited the British electoral system, which is the majority wins, first-past-the-post system. However, in 1998, this system came under intense scrutiny when the governing Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) won 78 of the 79 contested seats but only 60% of the valid votes cast. In contrast, opposition parties--who earned 40% of the vote--won only one seat (1.25%). The resultant public outcry was followed by violent protests which left 75 people dead. As a result, Lesotho's constitution and electoral law were amended (following discussions among national stakeholders) to introduce a mixed-member proportional system with 120 legislative seats (adding 40 seats). Eighty of those seats are filled using FPTP (and are tied to specific constituencies), and 40 are filled using PR in order to ensure each party's number of legislative seats more or less reflects its proportion of the national vote (as indicated by the PR ballot). That is, they compensate for the FPTP system's tendency to over- or underrepresent political groups.
How the System Works
On election day, voters receive two ballots. They use one to elect the Member of Parliament for their constituency using the FPTP system, and they use the other to vote for their preferred party. The second (or party) ballot is used to determine the number of seats each party would receive if the system was fully proportional and thereby determines the proportion of the 40 compensatory seats each party receives.
The total number of valid votes cast on the party ballot is divided by the total number of seats at stake in the national assembly in a given election (open constituency seats as well as the 40 compensatory seats). The resulting number is the quota or "price" of each assembly seat. The number of votes each party received on the party ballot is divided by the quota to determine how many seats it deserves to receive. This process is known as the provisional allocation.
For example, if party A won 35 seats in the FPTP election, but the provisional allocation shows that it deserves 45 seats then it receives 10 of the compensatory seats to give it its full complement of 45 seats. This process is repeated for each party. If, at the end of the first round, all seats have been allocated, the process stops. However, the law anticipates certain complications, such as a situation in which a party wins more constituency seats than it is entitled to according to the provisional allocation or where the first round of the provisional allocation gives parties more compensatory seats than are available. Instead of automatically adding these extra seats and potentially changing the size of the national assembly each time there is an election (as in Germany), Lesotho electoral law handles this challenge by excluding the seats for those parties which had won more than their fair share in the FPTP. In 2002 one such constituency seat was won by a party that was due compensation: the Lesotho People's Congress. As a result, the number of seats used to determine the quota was 41.
Lesotho's 2002 Elections Show Improvement
As can be seen from this table, the use of the MMP system greatly improved proportionality and broadened representation of political parties in Lesotho's legislature when compared with the 1998 results.
The 2007 Elections Yield New Controversy
Unfortunately, the country's next election (in 2007) did not go as smoothly. In late 2006, floor crossing in the national assembly reduced the LCD majority from 79 to 61 (of 120) seats. This slim majority proved difficult to manage and led to the calling of elections in February 2007.
In an attempt to gain political advantage, the LCD allied with the National Independence Party (NIP) while the LCD's newest and strongest rival, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), entered into a coalition with the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP). In an MMP system, the more constituency seats a party wins, the fewer compensatory seats it earns (which is why the LCD won no compensatory seats in 2002). The NIP and LWP are both smaller parties, and the coalitions between them and larger parties were clearly designed to take advantage of this aspect of MMP systems.
According to their agreements, the LWP and NIP did not contest the constituency elections rather ran only on the party ballot (though one NIP faction did run in some constituencies). In turn, the larger LCD and ABC did not run on the party ballot. However, members of the LCD and ABC who ran for constituency seats were also included in the party lists for the NIP and LWP respectively. As a result, some people represented two different parties in different aspects of the election. Nevertheless, the four parties used different symbols and registered separately for the elections. Clearly, the larger parties aimed to earn compensatory seats through the "back door" provided by the smaller parties, and the smaller parties were attempting to "piggyback" on the strength of the larger parties to gain access to the legislature for at least some of their candidates.
Following the election the total number of party votes was 442,963. The first round allocated 119 seats (an election in one constituency did not take place) on the basis of a quota of 3,723 votes per seat (442,963 divided by 119), as shown in Table 2. In this round, the ABC and LCD were not included in the provisional allocation (because they had not participated in the PR ballot). As Table 2 shows, this resulted in the provisional allocation of more compensatory seats than the 40 seats available. Therefore, the allocation had to go to a second round (shown in Table 3), which excluded the 78 seats already won by parties not listed on the party ballot and the one constituency seat which was not contested. One of the parties which had run on the party ballot had also won one constituency seat, therefore this seat was added to the 40 compensatory seats to make a total of 41 seats to be considered. In the second round, the quota was 10,804 votes per seat (442,963 divided by 41), and it was applied only to those parties that had participated in the party election. This round determined how the 40 compensatory seats were allocated. The final allocation, including the constituency seats, is shown in Table 4.
The Parties Challenge the Seat Allocation
After the allocation process, several political parties contested the manner in which seats had been distributed, alleging that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) should have taken into consideration that LCD and NIP were in fact acting as one party (as were ABC and LWP) and should be treated as one party. They argued that treating these coalitions as a single entity would have significantly changed the seat allocation (as shown in Table 5). The smaller parties would have more seats and the LCD would control fewer seats.
This allocation issue has created a new political impasse in Lesotho and has prompted a mass job stay away in March 2007, violent attacks against top political leaders, and the continued recalcitrance of the opposition parties. Taken together, it has created political instability and has in fact negated the consensus the MMP system was designed to promote. Some people in Lesotho do not see the election results as legitimate, and the system itself has been compromised in the eyes of observers both inside and outside the borders of Lesotho. Some argue that the current allocation of seats looks more like a parallel electoral system, in which the calculations for the FPTP and PR seats are made separately and do not have any effect on each other.
Implications for the MMP System and Future Electoral Reform in Lesotho
Despite its current political turmoil, Lesotho's experience should not be taken to signify fundamental flaws in the MMP system. After all, this system has been used successfully by countries such as Germany, New Zealand, and Mexico. Those who designed Lesotho's system acted with the understanding that political actors would respect the system and not abuse it, and it is possible that they did not even consider the ways in which the system could be manipulated. If they had, the system could have included safeguards to prevent the situation in which Lesotho finds itself. Lesotho's experiences stands more as a cautionary tale than a condemnation of MMP systems.
Any reforms of MMP systems should consider making explicit the legal status of alliances and coalitions, particularly when it comes to the calculation of quotas. The law should guide election administrators as to how to allocate compensatory seats in cases in which coalitions are not officially registered or when the parties listed on the constituency ballots are not the same as those on the party ballots. Some have argued that parties that do not participate in the constituency ballot (as the LWP and NIP did not) should not be eligible for compensatory seats, and the law should resolve this issue. Some argue that the law should compel parties to participate in both ballots. (Such a law raises questions about whether parties that do not have the same level of support across the country should be forced to field candidates in constituencies in which they would be at a disadvantage from the beginning.) Because Lesotho's law is silent on these issues, it is difficult to legally fault the election administrators for allocating these seats as they did.
The fact that some well-known members of the LCD and ABC have entered the legislature (and indeed the executive branch) on the ticket of the NIP and LWP respectively raises another problem. It defies common political sense that a person can stand for two parties in one election. The law should specify that a person can only appear on constituency or party ballots representing a single party. Reformers could also consider introducing a threshold requirement (according to which parties must have some minimum percentage of the national vote in order to qualify to run), though this has the potential to decrease the diversity of representation in Parliament (where, in Lesotho's case, some parties only have one seat).
There is no doubt that Lesotho's electoral law should be reformed not only to safeguard the compensatory mechanisms but also to address as much as is legally possible other loopholes in its MMP system, such as issues related to seat allocation and the nature of coalition politics. Such reform will be closely watched not only by those contemplating introducing an MMP system of their own but also by those who currently operate an MMP system, with the goal of avoiding the instability that has arisen from the manipulation and misunderstanding of the system in Lesotho.
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|Title Annotation:||ACE Electoral Knowledge Network; mixed-member proportional|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2007|
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