Lesotho goes to the polls, again …as PM Mosilili loses confidence motion

> Sechaba Mokhethi

MASERU – Political strife has thrown the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho back to the polls hardly a year after the country was ordered to hold a snap election by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

This follows the announcement on Tuesday by Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, three days after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost a motion of no confidence in parliament.

Mosisili lost the vote to an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote of the opposition bloc quartet of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP), Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) and the newly founded Alliance of Democrats (AD), which commands the support of 74 members in the 120-member National Assembly.

Speaking in the capital, Maseru, Metsing said the dissolution of government followed the publication of Legal Notice No. 22, of 2017, and that “that His Majesty King Letsie III has accepted the Prime Minister’s advice to dissolve the ninth parliament”.

According to Lesotho’s constitution, elections are supposed to be held within 90 days, with the day of the polls supposed to be announced within four days following the dissolution, as stipulated by the National Assembly Electoral Act of 2011.

The move has called for resistance from the opposition that wanted an exchange of power in parliament without going to the polls.

Addressing scores of opposition supporters following the announcement, AD leader Monyane Moleleki, who was nominated to succeed Mosisili as prime minister, said the decision to dissolve parliament was the prerogative of the king after advice from the State Council, which he alleged was not the case in the signature of the instrument ordering the elections.

“This time it was done solely on the advice of Prime Minister Mosisili,” Moleleki said.

He said opposition leaders appealed to King Letsie III on Tuesday to call a sitting of the Council of State, indicating that even other council members had made a number of requests for a meeting but were ignored.

Pressure for Mosisili to step down gained momentum upon the return of three opposition leaders, who had fled the country to neighbouring South Africa almost two years ago, with Moleleki also splitting from Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) to form his new party with a chunk of legislators defecting with him.

But if Lesotho ultimately goes for elections, Associate Professor of Political Science at National University of Lesotho, Motlamelle Kapa told The Southern Times that the opposition parties might contest the elections as independent parties.

“The parties may strike a pre-election alliance where they will be working together in their contest for elections or compete for elections independently and then probably renegotiate their deal based on the number of seats garnered by each party from the polls,” he said.

Prime Minister Mosisili’s demise, according to analysts, was his failure to implement the SADC decisions handed down in 2016 and aimed at restoring peace and stability in the tiny kingdom.

The decisions included the removal of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli from the helm of the Lesotho Defence Force, vigorous investigations into the killing of former army Commander Maaparankoe Mahao, the suspension of soldiers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason, amnesty for detained mutiny suspects and reforms of the constitution, security as well as public service sectors.

Mosisili’s government has since retired Kamoli on December 1, 2016. Last month, the last batch of the 23 soldiers who had been incarcerated on suspicion of mutiny was released from the Maseru Maximum Prison.

The charges against them were dismissed by a SADC Commission of Inquiry that was set up to investigate Mahao’s assassination.

However, Mahao’s murderers are still at large with little progress made on political reforms that were boycotted by the opposition.

The government went further to make an attempt to give blanket amnesty to all security officers implicated in crimes perpetrated from 2007 to 2015, including Mahao’s murders and soldiers implicated in cases of murder and treason, through a controversial Amnesty Bill that died in its infancy after the sudden dissolution of parliament on Tuesday.

And analysts opined that the Bill’s prospects lay with Mosisili’s returning to power provided that he garners enough votes from the looming polls.

With elections on the horizon, Lesotho’s economic aspirations remain blurred as parliament, which was dominated by the opposition, refused to allow the presentation of the 2016/17 budget in a bid to push Mosisili to the edge.

Section 113 (a) of the constitution allows for usage of “ . . . total one-third of the sums included in the estimates of expenditure for the proceeding financial year that have been laid before the Assembly”.

But the opposition rejected Minister of Finance Tlohang Sekhamane’s attempt to lay the estimates in the National Assembly on February 27.

The country spent R220 million for the 2015 snap elections, and with elections looming, the country will have conducted elections three times within a period of five years.

This is a major financial burden considering the declining receipts from its major source of revenue, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

According to the Finance External Circular Notice No 15, of 2016, published on November 18, 2016, “SACU revenues are forecast to recover from 15.5 percent of GDP in 2016/17 to 16.0 percent of GDP in 2017/18 before tumbling to 14.9 percent in 2018/19 and 14.3 percent of GDP as Lesotho share of SACU receipts continue to decline.”

Despite the magnitude of SACU revenues to Lesotho, the country has earned the lowest percentage share of revenue shares when compared to its regional counterparts as for the financial year of 2016/2017 as 20 percent was distributed to Botswana, 6 percent to Lesotho, 18 percent to Namibia, 50 percent to South Africa and 7 percent to Swaziland.

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