Metsing calls for urgent constitutional reforms

 

Billy Ntaote

Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing says parliament should pass a law which clearly outlines the role of a caretaker prime minister and government before its dissolution in December.

Mr Metsing made the call on Monday this week in the National Assembly as he deliberated on the speech delivered by King Letsie III during last Friday’s opening of the legislature following its nine-month suspension on 10 June 2014 by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who feared a no-confidence voted.

The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader told the legislators that there is need for a law to guarantee that the leader of a caretaker government “cannot refuse to step down” should he or she lose an election.

The current Eighth Parliament is set to be dissolved early December in line with the Maseru Facilitation Declaration which political party leaders signed on 2 October 2014 to ensure the country returns to stability.

Under the Declaration brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), parliament was to open on 17 October and dissolved early December and elections held in February 2015. Initially, Lesotho was supposed to hold elections in 2017 but after the coalition government, which came to power in June 2012, had collapsed due to differences between its leaders—Dr Thabane, Mr Metsing and Thesele ‘Maseribane of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD and Basotho National Party— SADC brokered the Maseru Facilitation Declaration through South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in an effort to return the country to normalcy.

After parliament is dissolved in December, Dr Thabane is expected to head a caretaker government leading to the election, but Mr Metsing would want his powers, and those of his ministers, limited during this period.

“The six weeks that we will be here before parliament is dissolved in December are enough to pass a number of laws, and the sooner we start, the better.

“For instance, if we suggest changes to the 14-day requirement set in the constitution for parliament to sit following an election, we can deal with that quite easily. We would not have to crack our heads about that point because should the need arise to form a coalition government, there would be enough time to do so due to the amendment we would have made now,” Mr Metsing said.

“Another issue is that of the functions of a caretaker government. We need to agree on what the caretaker government can and cannot do. Issues that concern a caretaker government and the transition process are surely not controversial and should not take too much of our time.”

Mr Metsing added the Commonwealth had also recommended the enactment of such a law.

“The Commonwealth Secretariat raised concerns immediately after the 26 May 2012 elections, that our constitution had some shortcomings regarding the role of the caretaker government and transition from one government to another.

“The body advised us to address this issue and put legislation in place that would deal with these constitutional shortcomings.

“In fact, we were  told that it was a surprise that Lesotho had not had any problems over the role of a caretaker government. Maybe it was because after the country’s return to democratic rule in 1993, we had always been governed by one political party, hence these constitutional challenges were only highlighted during the 2012 elections.

“So they advised us to have clear legislation on how a caretaker government functions. They indeed commended the country for a smooth transition of power from Ntate (Pakalitha) Mosisili to Ntate Thabane but emphasised we needed to look into this issue.

“For instance, after the 2012 elections, we were surprised to hear Democratic Congress Deputy Leader Monyane Moleleki (now Leader of the Opposition in Parliament), say his party could form a minority government because it had won the highest number of seats. That nearly created problems for us but the DC did not pursue the issue. So we need to take steps to ensure the caretaker government does not refuse to step down if the election results are not in their favour,” Mr Metsing told the MPs.

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