February 23, 2007
Electoral fraud at work
Entirely within the letter of the law, Lesotho’s dominant parties have managed to massively manipulate almost a quarter of the seats in last weekend’s national election. Neither donors nor media seem interested in covering the irregularities. But the trouble is plain in the published numbers for all to see.
Lesotho’s electoral system is a Mixed Member Proportional system. Behind this confusing name is a principle which allows people to vote directly for their representatives (as in the British system), while also adjusting the final result so that it reflects the popular vote across the nation (as in many European systems).
This is how it works. 80 of the 120 seats in parliament are voted for directly in the 80 districts of the country. The winner of each district gets a seat. In Britain and many former English colonies, all the seats in the parliament are allocated in this way. The problem with this approach is that a party that finishes second place in every single district may have 49% of the popular vote, but get zero seats in parliament.
To remedy this, Lesotho’s remaining 40 seats are allocated to ensure that the final parliament represents the popular vote as much as possible. The formula is complex, but the idea is simple – if a party’s popular vote is greater than the proportion of seats it holds in parliament, it should get another seat.
For example, in 2002, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) won 79 out of 80 districts, but with only 54% of the popular vote. So according to the formula, all 40 of the proportional seats were given to other parties. The final distribution in parliament was therefore 65% LCD – not a perfect match for the popular vote, but a lot better than the 98% LCD that would be the case if the system was still one district, one seat.
And that is exactly how the proportional representation component of the system is intended to work.
Abusing the System
On each ballot this year, there was a vote cast for an individual representative and a vote cast for the party – the second vote is used for the proportional component of the election.
For the individual representatives, the ruling LCD won 62 seats (226,000 votes, or 53%) the challenger All Basotho Convention (ABC) won 17 seats (125,000 votes, or 29%) and other parties accounted for 1 seat (78,000 votes, or 18%).
According to this result alone, it should be possible to calculate what the parliament should look like. So far, the LCD has 79% of seats, but only 53% of the votes cast. If the 40 remaining seats are appropriately split, LCD only gets one out of the 40, and the others go to ABC and the other parties. The final tally should be:
The correct outcome
LCD: 63, ABC: 35, Others: 22
The correct outcome is a slim majority for the LCD.
But it didn’t work out that way. Look at the results of the “Party” vote, which is the vote used to fill the remaining 40 seats.
Party totals: the same, but different
The strangeness leaps from the page. First, the two dominant parties, LCD and ABC are nowhere – in fact they were not even on the ballot. Second, the voting is massively dominated by two fringe parties, NIP and LWP, one of which didn’t run a single candidate in the constituent elections. Third, the vote numbers for these two fringe parties are very close matches to the totals for the LCD and the ABC in the constituent elections.
It looks a lot like these two parties are in fact shell parties for the bigger LCD and ABC. Confirming the suspicion, we find that the majority of the names on the NIP list are in fact members of the LCD – the prime minister and leader of the LCD himself is the sixth person
on the NIP party list! Why do this? Because it dramatically changes the outcome of the proportional seats.
Why do this? Because it dramatically changes the outcome of the proportional seats.
The PR system is intended to reward the parties that get a large proportion of the popular vote, but a small proportion of seats. Fairly, then, the PR system should be giving seats to parties <em>other</em> than the leading LCD, which received more seats than its due in the original round. By running under an assumed name, the LCD now has access to the PR seats as well.
If we assume, not unreasonably, that these fringe party candidates will cross the floor to join their parent parties, or will at least vote with them, then the election outcome looks like this:
The actual (suspicious) outcome
LCD: 83, ABC: 27, Others: 10
This is NOT how the proportional representation system is intended to work. Instead of the slim majority that they earned, the LCD goes home with 70% of the seats in parliament, looking a lot more like a winner than they actually were. An 83 seat majority is considerably more stable than a 62 seat majority, and will allow them to continue to be complacent in their power.
What’s An Observer To Do?
The question now is how the international organizations will report on these abberations. Technically, the election was fair, even if it is as clear as day that the parties manipulated a flawed system to produce a result that goes against the principle of how the system
should work. Do you declare an election fair that gives 70% of the seats to a party that only won 54% of them legitimately?
Unfortunately, that is the most likely result – donors do not want to risk hurting their own good relationship with the Government by speaking out against the result. So weak, the voices of the democratic West. Most likely, they will limit themselves to giving weak recommendations, and move on.
The machinations are most ironic on the part of the LCD, which put peace and stability at the center of their political platform. I struggle to think of anything less conducive to peace and stability than manipulating an election in a country that to date has had only one
peaceful election, but many disturbed elections.
The results in the media are pouring in “Landslide win for Lesotho’s LCD. International observers give Lesotho’s elections thumbs up.” Not this international observer.