Opinion

Trust essential to any coalition agreement

 

By Sofonea Shale

THE electoral agreements made by political parties and the constitution have been constantly juxtaposed so much in analysing the collapse of the All Basotho Convention-led coalition government that many people are beginning to think the word agreement is the opposite of constitution.

The tiff between ABC leader, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, and his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing mainly revolves around the latter accusing the premier of alleged dictatorial tendencies and dishonouring agreements. On the other hand, Dr Thabane has maintained a firm stance on following the dictates of the constitution.

It then begs the question of whether the agreements contradict the constitution. Can a breach of signed agreements on the part of one leader and conspicuous absence of affirmation of the constitution on the other be explained beyond the usual stereotypes? This article seeks to interrogate whether political leaders in Lesotho have learned anything or done better if they were still in a coalition government. or they have just seen this coalition as a means of taking them to early elections?

When the Mr Metsing announced he was joining forces with the Democratic Congress (DC) and expressed his wish to leave the ABC-led coalition government, there was a marked interest by many in finding out the tenets of “Agreement to Form a Coalition Government of Political Parties”.

The overriding theme of Mr Metsing’s allegations was that Dr Thabane had been incessantly breaching the agreement and he had enough of it.  The ordinary adjournment of parliament in sine die was followed by the prorogation. When the former Namibia President Hifikepunye Pohamba who was incumbent then, intervened, agreements were made and the Lesotho case formally tabled at a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  The subsequent meetings led to the appointment of South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as facilitator of a process that will take Lesotho to the early polls, stabilise and return to political and security normalcy in Lesotho as agreed by the coalition leaders and SADC.

Several agreements have been signed, notably, the Maseru Facilitation Declaration, Maseru Security Accord and Electoral Pledge. Mr Metsing has cried foul that the prime minister undermines the agreements in their letter and spirit. Though several issues have been raised, the most pressing has been Dr Thabane’s appointments, firing, promotion and demotion of government officials.

The change of leadership within the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and the recent appointment of the president of the Court of Appeal are used as examples of how the premier has been unable to uphold the agreements.

It is noteworthy that the two leaders have vested interests in the manner in which police handle sensitive documentation relating to, among others, charges laid against Mr Metsing.

Whether this case is real or a fabrication, these two leaders would have an interest in its documentation, something that makes the position of acting commissioner very significant, not only in its own right as a key security institution but also for the political tug of war between Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing who have turned into belligerent parties.

Maybe to the degree that the circumstances are not made clear, the removal of the acting commissioner may be seen as contributing to the destabilisation of the institution. If the sensitivity of this office under the circumstances is well conceptualised what would happen when the prime minister or the deputy perceives the incumbent to be siding with the other?

Clearly, the reaction would be akin to a man who is determined to get out to of a locked house and resorts to breaking the window. Assuming that this is the case, it would therefore be a matter of survival of the fittest between the two leaders. The appointment of the Court of Appeal president is also seen as a breach. The question then becomes does the appointment destabilise the organ or the resignation of the full bench upon King’s Counsel (KC) Kananelo Mosito appointment.

It is also yet to be discovered whether the destabilisation of institutions has been equally and similarly understood. But this cannot be interpreted to mean that it suits one or the other between Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing.

 

Though the prime minister himself is not the focal point on the matter, he maintains that whatever he is doing is within the parameters of the constitution and other laws of Lesotho. This issue, up to now, has been used to characterise Dr Thabane as untrustworthy, as the list of actions undermining agreements is made, while on the other hand Mr Metsing is seen as a difficult character who always complains for not being consulted and who rates his consultation way above the constitution and therefore is called an anarchist. What Basotho have not done, either by design or default, but surely for naïve partisan political gains, is to look at why agreements are not kept.

From a peace and conflict management perspective, the point of departure is on what the parties agreed on, the circumstances under which it was agreed and the manner in which it was agreed are also significant. Do parties agree that the agreement and, therefore, keeping to it will change the situation that they are in and one that they both or all do not want?

While this article is focusing on the 2015 snap elections in perspective, it may be helpful to refer back to 1998 when discontent over the National Assembly polls led to the protests that paralysed then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government, a situation that resulted in the South African military intervention in Lesotho by invitation of government.

The consequences of that to the economy, Basotho and to undermining governance instruments are not the subject of this article. Besides, South Africa had a very effective diplomatic intervention. In fact the underlying cause for the success of that intervention was the splendid application of different foreign policy instruments, the combination of the military aspect and diplomacy. It was this diplomatic intervention which established the Interim Political Authority (IPA) giving all political parties that contested elections an equal platform. The IPA was, among other things, mandated to review the electoral model and its decision would be binding on the Cabinet. When this was introduced by former South African Minister Sydney Mufamadi and  contact person for former SA President Thabo Mbeki, the then Deputy President of South Africa and the Mediator in the Lesotho debacle, Kelebone Maope, then Deputy Prime Minister took him head on arguing that such would be unconstitutional.  Though Mr Maope was further infuriated when Mr Mufamadi asked him “where was that constitution, when South Africa was called in?” today he refers to that matter as a lesson.

Until it had carefully studied the agreement, the Mosisili administration which was a minority in the IPA made up of liked-minded opposition parties and majority in parliament abused the “decision by Consensus” clause in the IPA law and other agreements to block progress. Having studied the law carefully, the Mosisili-led and highly Thabane-influenced LCD, used parliament to undo IPA agreements. In its assumed culture of reneging on agreements Dr Mosisili’s government attempted to make Lesotho’s new electoral system a parallel system against the agreed mixed member proportional (MMP) system. However, it did not succeed. The unscrupulous 2007 pre-elections alliances by the LCD and National Independent Party (NIP) on the one hand and ABC and Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) on the other are attributed by some to the sustained desire of the LCD to make Lesotho’s model a parallel as opposed to the MMP.

The government used its parliamentary majority to alter the agreement of parties which said that there shall be 50 PR and 80 constituency seats and in the subsequent elections there shall be 50-50 share of the two models to the total membership of National Assembly. Looked at critically, it would be seen that as the political dust started to subside, the LCD reclaimed confidence, perceived itself to be technically turned into minority in the IPA and begun to feel frustrated and looked for way out. The similar difficulty was observed when Eminent Person, former Botswana President Sir Ketumile Masire retired his mission prematurely because government had summersaulted.

In the 2015 Electoral Pledge, parties commit to “Refrain from undertaking any actions that may undermine the stability of the institutions of the state, including the removal, appointment, demotion or promotion of key officials within the state during the period prior to the elections, subject to due and legal process being followed”.

The question then becomes is this well understood and what the agreement means by letter and spirit? Can the two major issues; removal of acting police head and appointment of Court of Appeal president against which complaints are levelled fit for the interpretation that this agreement is being undermined? What were the parties really pledging to refrain from here? Did the parties here regard removals, demotions and promotions as synonymous to destabilising institutions? Or do they take them to be destabilising as long as they are done outside the law provisions?

If it is the case, did this really have to be singed for, is not a common cause?

Article 7 (c) the Coalition Agreement provides that as laid down by the constitution, the leader of the coalition shall be the prime minister.  The duties of the prime minister are not defined in the agreement except in Article 5(g) where it provides the exercise of executive authority, parties shall have regard for the spirit underlying the formation of inclusive government. In all the cases, agreements have been cordially afforded the subsidiary level to the constitution and the laws of Lesotho.

So has Mr Mesting forgotten this or has Dr Thabane abused the original intent?

 

Mr Ramaphosa made considerable progress in his endeavours but overlooked a basic tenant in any agreement. Unless parties get into the agreement that comes as a result of dialogue over what caused the problems, what is agreed upon is bound to face relapse, non-compliance and many other tricks.

The fallout between the premier and his deputy should have been first addressed. The agreements signed by the belligerent leaders contesting for power, are equally implemented and respected within a framework of suspicion. When Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing can no longer communicate effectively yet claim to be leading the same government, it would not be surprising to have an agreement signed in the morning which is then undermined by evening. It does not really matter how wide their smiles would be when they sign, as long as issues of trust are not resolved, there will be frustrations.

When Dr Mosisili signed in 1998, he was desperate to remain in power but when that desperation faded, he wanted to fix the opposition parties whom he felt did him injustice by not accepting defeat and imposing reforms. In 2007, SADC came when government was desperate but when the sun shone, government became untouchable and SADC left. When Dr Thabane, Mr Metsing and Chief ‘Maseribane signed their Coalition Agreement, they rushed because they feared that others may agree sooner than them to form government. When their coalition government encountered problems, they kept on signing many more agreements but not honouring them. Did they sign out of desperation and when they were out of trouble saw no significance of agreements? Have all the agreements captured the aspirations, issues, concerns and worries of the leaders or were there others left out only to be reflected later in their actions? What has been lost between the prime minister and his deputy cannot just be wished away, it is an important ingredient in the coalition; trust. There is nothing unconstitutional about what has been agreed so there is no need to juxtapose agreements with the constitution.

 

If parties have to agree on a coalition government after elections, here is a list of tips. Parties should, first and foremost, determine what brings them together. They should negotiate interests, talk about and conclude on all issues raised and select negotiating teams. It is important for parties to note that, unless they have agreed on all the issues, it would be a recipe for disaster to sign because the same issue may erupt later to cause problems. This is called “all or nothing” negotiating strategy where “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

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