SADC talks tough on Lesotho

By Sechaba Mokhethi

Maseru – The head of the Southern African Development Community Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) to Lesotho, Pombe Mahinga, has warned of an uncompromising approach and dire consequences for those who would reject a free and fair poll.

Mahinga, who is also the Tanzanian Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation minister, warned during the launch of the mission in the capital Maseru on May 25 that “if the losers don’t accept elections because of selfishness, we must stand up”.

Lesotho was scheduled to go to the polls on June 3.  The polls pit the Democratic Congress (DC) of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosilili, the Lesotho Congress of Democrats (LCD) of Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP), the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

The launch of SEOM was attended by the director of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs, Jorge Cardoso, representing SADC executive secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax; representatives of the Lesotho Independent Electoral Commission; heads of the diplomatic corps accredited to Lesotho; heads of other international observer missions; leaders of political parties and representatives of civic bodies cross the country.

The SEOM is expected to release its preliminary statement over the June 3 elections on June 5, and Mahiga’s stern warning stirred mixed reactions from the citizenry on SADC’s tone – the regional body has earned a toothless dog tag in the country following its lengthy, yet lukewarm intervention in Lesotho’s protracted political and security instability.

A section of society understands Mahinga’s caution to mean SADC will emulate its counterpart, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which opted for military intervention to resolve a breakdown of internal order after then president, Yahya Jammeh, rejected the outcome of the Gambian December 2016 poll won by rival Adama Barrow and declared a state of emergency.

Others interpret the warning to be pointed at a possibility of other stringent measures such as suspending Lesotho from the regional bloc for a stipulated period of time.

This is the same threat the country faced early in 2016 when Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili refused to accept the report of a SADC-sponsored Commission of Inquiry into the tragic murder of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao.

Mosisili only accepted the report after the regional body threatened to cut all ties with the tiny kingdom, but the recommendations contained in the report have not been all implemented to date – another factor that led to the opposition parties joining ranks to unseat Mosisili through a March 1 motion of no confidence, that led to the elections on Saturday.

A day after Mahiga’s warning, Mosisili’s government was still at its usual antics with government continuing to use state media for own political ends.

Reporters from state-owned media – Radio Lesotho and Lesotho Television – were tasked to cover a national debate by leaders of contesting political parties in Maseru, but were recalled at the last minute by acting communications ministry’ principal secretary Thato Mosisili, who is the prime minister’s daughter.

This stands out in sharp contrast to one of the benchmarks that will be used by the SEOM in assessing the country’s conduct of elections.

According to SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, the mission will among others assess Lesotho based on “equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media”.

In his remarks, Mahiga highlighted that the importance of the forthcoming elections, the third to take place in a period of less than five years, and Lesotho’s instability and regular untimely polls could be curbed by undertaking of thorough constitutional reform   process.

“SADC member states have consistently urged the leadership in Lesotho to institute reforms in order to stabilise the government,” he said.

He further noted that the hesitation and delay in implementing the reforms has greatly contributed to the current and previous political crisis in the government.

He noted that it was evident from SADC’s extended presence on the ground in Lesotho that the resolution of the political and security problems was not entirely predicated upon the elections and its outcomes, and that “clearly, there has to be stronger and time-bound commitment to broader reforms in the political, security and public sectors in order to stabilise the country”.

“In a similar vein, it is significant to note that the current National Assembly Elections in the Kingdom of Lesotho is yet another intervention by SADC member states to assist the kingdom to build and consolidate its democratic practices and institutions.”

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