By Sechaba Mokhethi
MASERU – The Basotho nation voted a new coalition government projected to guide efforts to build strong, disciplined and inclusive national institutions to facilitate consensus around national policy developments and implementation, protection of human rights and the rule of law.
This followed the June 3 national elections that saw the All Basotho Convention (ABC) lead a four-party pact of opposition parties jostling Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili from power. The pact amassed 63 of the Lesotho national assembly 120 seats.
The Mosisili-led elections pact amassed 44 parliamentary seats, falling short of the 60 plus 1 constitutional requirement to form a government.
The ABC, with partnered the Basotho National Party (BNP), the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) and the Alliance of Democrats (AD), will now form a new government. The four parties on Tuesday welcomed the mandate given to them by the electorate.
The ABC has always been the people’s choice gaining more votes than any other party in the last three elections but could not garner enough votes to go it alone as the governing party, and thus had to rely on coalitions to gain power.
A joint statement by the parties appealed for calm amid jubilation from their supporters, while an outlined priority policy programme was being prepared for announcement.
The Thomas Thabane-led coalition emerged victorious in an election mired by military intimidation and uncertainty. So sombre was the mood in the country during the days leading up to the polls that many, almost half the registered voters, chose to abstain from voting.
Many feared for the safety as the country’s military, loyal to Mosisili, employed intimidating tactics during the polls.
It was the military that was responsible for then Prime Minister Thabane to flee Lesotho in 2015, claiming persecution at the hands of the Mosisili led military, which has also been accused of carrying out extra judicial killings on its own citizens.
Apart from ensuring the implementation of the pending decisions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), constitutional, security, parliamentary, civil service and media sector reforms as well as fight rampant corruption, the new dispensation is expected to redress the country’s landscape that has been dominated by political instability, weak institutions and polarisation of society on political grounds.
Critics pointed to the fact that the coalitions are not based on any policy or ideological grounds but based on the politicians’ self interest.
This was cited as one of the reasons why the coalitions have been so fragile that they often cannot hold for a full five-year term.
Lesotho has seen three elections since 2012.
This state of affairs has led to the people of Lesotho being deprived of a government for extended periods due to political infighting by the country’s political elite.
An example is when outgoing Prime Minister Mosisili suffered the humiliation of a vote of no confidence early this year. That meant that for three months the country’s parliament was dissolved.
The status quo, as presented by the individual parties making up the pact while on the campaign trail, has pushed the country’s economy to remain fragile and dependent on factors it has little control over.
Theories have been bandied around, as a result, that a weak democratic culture has contributed to the lack of strong social and economic policies to build a strong shared economy needed to support its entire people; and that in the absence of strong public policies, poverty, hunger, inequality, ignorance and ill-health have persisted and have left many Basotho vulnerable to daily challenges of life.
The Southern Times has established that the coalition agreement will be espoused in its form, with a few amendments to accommodate new developments borne by the June 3 poll.
The main policy issues expected to be embraced include the restoration of trust, to be achieved through promptly implementing all outstanding decisions emanating from the intervention in Lesotho by SADC; limiting the abuse of public offices; the implementation of all reform proposals outlined by both SOMILES and the Commonwealth (New Zealand Reforms) that do not require constitutional amendments and lengthy legislative process.
The parties further aim to undertake economic reforms, producing an economic reform blueprint to halt the stagnation in the economy through restoring political and macroeconomic stability as a priority, as well as raising investor and development partner confidence.
Other key areas are:
Reformation and depoliticisation the Lesotho public service.
Reformation of parliament to guarantee its independence and focus on its mandate of legislation and oversight.
Reviewing and amending the constitution of Lesotho as appropriate.
Entrenching the independence of the judiciary.
Undertaking security sector reforms.
Undertaking local government elections.
In the main the parties focus in outlining these priority areas is interpreted as to rescue Lesotho from the currently perceived downward spiral into lawlessness, conflict, political instability, economic stagnation and degradation of democracy.
This includes working for lasting peace and the stability, and to lead the nation on a path of reconciliation and unity.
Thabane has also made it clear that he was only interested in putting the country back on its path to prosperity and ensure reforms take priority. He denied intentions of persecuting his political rivals or disbanding the highly politicised military.
International observers’ input
Post elections, international observers’ preliminary reports have declared the electoral process transparent, free and fair – but called for commitment in ensuring the stability of the incoming government.
The African Union Electoral Observation Mission (AUEOM) called on all stakeholders to ensure the immediate and effective implementation of the reform pledge to carry out constitutional, security, civil service, parliamentary and judicial reforms.
The reforms, AUEOM observed, should enhance the separation of powers and safeguard the independence of institutions, while professionalizing the civil service and clarifying the role of civilian authorities in the control of the security sector.
The continental watchdog further urged stakeholders to convene a national dialogue that will facilitate reconciliation and national healing, a move Mosisili rejected in a letter to SADC chairman, King Mswati III, suggesting it was “ridiculous and absurd” for the regional body to call for the dialogue while everyone was on the road campaigning for elections.
In holding the dialogue, Lesotho leaders were urged to put the interests of the country ahead of their own for posterity; further advising the African Union Commission, SADC and other partners to support the government and people of Lesotho to undertake the national dialogue and a comprehensive reform process.
The SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM), in the immediate post-election period, urged the new government to comply with the decision of the Double Troika Summit of March 2017 and under-take time-bound constitutional, judicial, legislative, security sector, public sector and media sector reforms to depoliticise and stabilise the forthcoming government.
“It is recommended that for clarity and predictability, the constitution should be amended to make provision for a timeframe within which a government must be formed after an election; make provision for caretaker governing arrangements and for specific modalities for possible coalition governments,” SEOM said in their statement issued on Monday in Maseru.