Rakuoane speaks on constitutional amendment

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

ADVOCATE Lekhetho Rakuoane is the man of the moment after he sponsored a constitutional amendment that was this week used to force Thomas Thabane out of office without affording him the escape route of dissolving parliament and ordering fresh elections.

Lesotho has held three costly elections since 2012 and could easily have gone for its fourth plebiscite in eight years but for Advocate Rakuoane’s unrelenting efforts to reverse that trend. Constitutional amendment number nine now deprives any sitting prime minister of the conduit of avoiding ouster by dissolving parliament — after they have lost a no confidence vote — unless the move is supported by a two thirds majority in the National Assembly.

The Lesotho Times’ (LT) senior reporter ’Marafaele Mohloboli this week caught up with Adv Rakuoane, who is also the leader of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), for a reflection of his efforts in crafting the landmark law that has enabled Lesotho to avoid another costly election at the expense of economic development. Excerpts;

LT: What inspired you to sponsor the historic Constitutional Amendment Bill which is now law after its signing by His Majesty King Letsie III?

Adv Rakuoane: For a long time, I have observed a pattern of the rise and fall of governments which has plunged this country into costs (of holding elections) it could not even afford without the help of development partners.

This happened while the state of affairs, in as far as service delivery and poverty are concerned, remained the same.  I then sat and considered that there was need to do something about it.

LT: Yours is a small party. How did you manage to convince the bigger parties to support you and how was the reception?

Adv Rakuoane: At first, some of my counterparts in the opposition were sceptical about whether this was at all achievable. But being the leader of a small party did not in any way deter me or dampen my spirits because at the end of the day something had to be done.

The Members of Parliament realised that they were unlikely to finish their five-year terms if fresh elections were convened.

This might have looked selfish but then again, it would also help us save money that would be spent on any snap elections. This was one of the few moments when we saw MPs uniting.

Outwardly, this can be perceived to be selfish but the end result is good for the country… it will work for everyone in the future. This country is poor and needs to channel scarce resources to productive purposes.

LT: Apart from saving the country money for premature elections, what are the other benefits of this law?

Adv Rakuoane: The law will assist in achieving long term political stability in the country. No more will governments collapse and snap elections be called on a whim… It also secures the completion of the national reforms process, which this country badly needs.

If we had gone for elections, the reforms process would have been put on the back-burner.

LT: Take us through the steps that you followed leading to the passing of the bill.

Adv Rakuoane: I introduced the motion around March 2019…It was signed by the Speaker but was only announced in the House around May. Three days after its publication, the House closed and it was only debated much latter in October.

Garnering support for it was not as difficult as one would have thought. Even a majority of pro-government legislators supported it.

It is then that drafting started… I then requested leave from the House to allow me to start drafting the bill as a private member’s bill.

The drafting was done privately and it was tabled before the Speaker and taken to the law office until it was tabled before the House.

LT: Some have said the bill was motivated by an unflinching desire to see former prime minister Thomas Thabane gone. Is that correct?

Adv Rakuoane: Not at all. This was not targeted at him in any way hence it’s going to apply to all future prime ministers. It was just coincidental that just after its introduction, Mr Thabane also had shown his intention to step down and that was not provided for in the constitution.

LT: How do you feel now that you have made history by initiating a landmark law and leaders can no longer dissolve parliament at will?

Adv Rakuoane: Firstly, I should admit that I wouldn’t have managed to do this on my own without enjoying the support of other MPs as well as the non-governmental stakeholders. It is therefore not my glory but that of all Basotho.

There were public consultations in which many participated and made contributions to modify the bill… Many Basotho made it clear they did not want to see governments being dissolved prematurely without just causes and scarce resources being poured into holding elections instead of investing ill alleviating rampant poverty.

It is, however, worth noting that it has been a humbling experience for me as a politician to have even thought about it. Many are happy to have this as a law… prime ministers can no longer just dissolve parliament based on caprice alone. There have to be convincing reasons supported by a two thirds majority of MPs.

LT: What other reforms would you like to see being introduced?

Adv Rakuoane:  Economic Reforms are very important at this juncture given the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit even the strongest economies in the world. We need to save our economy and I would suggest we focus on that now…

LT: PFD is one of the nine parties in the new coalition. Do you think such a government will work well with so many parties?

Adv Rakuoane: All these parties were needed to secure the needed numbers and to underscore the seriousness of the need to oust the All Basotho Convention led administration.

We will have to find a way to go about making the coalition work based on past lessons from the other coalitions that came before this one.

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