Mixed reactions to King’s proposed role

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Pascalinah Kabi

KING Letsie III’s assertion that he is willing to play a larger political role has been met with a mixture of scepticism and approval.

Political analysts who spoke to the Lesotho Times were split on the import of His Majesty’s interview with Qatari broadcaster, Al Jazeera, last week.

In the interview, King Letsie III expressed frustration with his inability to intervene in situations of instability in Lesotho, adding that he was amenable to assuming a larger role if called upon to do so by Basotho.

“I have no constitutional powers to intervene in public affairs or settle disputes that may arise between different political factions or between sections of the population and their political leaders. So it does cause, sometimes, a bit of a problem or a frustration on my part,” King Letsie III said.

“I am committed to the principles of a constitutional monarchy. However, if there is a view among the population that I could have a role in one way or another – there is a process of reform that is about to begin, reforming the Constitution … if the people say this is what we want, then I am ready for it.”

His Majesty stressed that it was not his intention to usurp the powers of the government.

“But we must be careful that in doing so, we do not surrender the principles of a constitutional monarchy and at the same time we don’t try to usurp the powers of the elected government.

“So it will have to be a very balanced exercise but at the end of the day it depends on the views of the people and their leadership,” King Letsie III added.

Lesotho has embarked on multi-sectoral reforms with the objective of attaining lasting peace and stability at the instigation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Among the areas earmarked for reform are the constitution and the security sector, with a view to nip in the bud the root causes of Lesotho’s instability.

Earlier this month, a SADC intelligence committee recommended a review of the constitution for the monarch to be made commander-in-chief instead of the premier.

“In line with the constitutional reforms in the Kingdom of Lesotho, the role of the monarchy should be reviewed to include among others, the empowerment of the monarchy to be the commander-in-chief of the LDF,” states a report of the SADC Defence Intelligence Standing Committee.

The committee met in the aftermath of another bout of instability in Lesotho that saw Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo being assassinated by his subordinates on 5 September 2017.

Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was the second army commander to be killed by his colleagues in the space of two years. Former LDF chief, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, was fatally shot by his erstwhile colleagues on 25 June 2015.

Political analyst, Nthakeng Selinyane, said King Letsie III already had sufficient powers to intervene “within the narrow corridors of constitutional monarchy” in the event of instability.

He said the monarch was spot on in his aversion to subverting the principles of a constitutional monarchy.

“The King himself has said that the essence of a constitutional monarchy should be maintained. So, we can’t do that (according His Majesty more power) and still leave him as a constitutional monarch. A constitutional monarchy does not work like that,” Mr Selinyane said.

The Council of State, he said, gave the King latitude for exercising discretion on pertinent issues, adding that it also insulated His Majesty from the political fray.

The Council of State plays a role in advising the King on key constitutional functions including calling for elections. It consists of the prime minister, National Assembly speaker, two  judges  (or  former  judges)  of  the  High  Court  or  Court  of  Appeal,  the army commander, police commissioner, attorney-general, nominees of the prime minister, opposition legislators and members of the legal profession among others.

“So, there is room already within the narrow confines of the constitutional monarchy,” said Mr Selinyane.

“One cannot do much more than that without undermining the constitutional monarchy and making the King an executive ruler which is something totally different.

“Executive rulers are elected. Otherwise, they become absolute monarchies like Morocco and Swaziland who use modern institutions to do as they please.

“For example, Lesotho’s constitution states that the land belongs to Basotho and that the King is an overseer of that land. However, in Swaziland, the land belongs to the King, who can any day decide to banish a citizen or something like that which His Majesty cannot do.”

Another analyst, Mafa Sejanamane, proffered a contrary view, saying according the monarch more powers would ensure checks and balances on the prime minister.

“The important issue to take note of is that we have institutional problems in Lesotho. Some of the problems emanate from placing all the power on the prime minister.

“So, if the prime minister creates a problem, nobody else can do anything. All the institutions in this country are really just in the pocket of the incumbent premier.”

According the monarch more power could be a solution, taking care that the balance of power is not tipped in favour of one individual.

“We have to make sure that there is a role for the monarchy when there is a crisis, especially with regards to the security sector. But it should not make the government helpless,” he said.

“We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we try to solve one problem and then end up creating a bigger one.”

Prof Sejanamane said the issue of the monarchy playing a larger political role was first raised by the Southern African Development Community Mission to Lesotho (SOMILES) 2015 Report and that the latest SADC Double Troika decisions also raised it with specifics.

“It (SOMILES report) also talks about the consideration of making the King the commander in chief of the armed forces. So, I think one has to see all these things in totality and acknowledge that we have a problem. The problem has to be solved by balancing the power of the prime minister with the power of the King,” he said.

“A solution could be to strengthen institutions like the Council of State, which would ensure that the King operates in counsel rather than as an individual.

“Another solution could be ensuring that the Council of State is not just made up of officials appointed by the prime minister, since most of its members at the moment were appointees of the premier.”

 

Other salient points from the interview:

When asked what caused the bouts of instability, King Letsie III said Lesotho was in the process of learning and refining its democracy.

“We are still trying to strengthen our democratic institutions and to strengthen our democratic culture. So in that process of learning, we are going through trial and error and unfortunately it does create these incidences of instability from time to time.

“But all the leadership now in Lesotho have accepted that taking into account what has been happening up to now, it is obvious that we need to sit down together as a nation, reflect and see what we can do to strengthen through a process of reforming all these important institutions – the parliament, the judiciary, security sector, public service – so that we can move forward stronger as we start a new circle of 50 years of independence.

“It is encouraging that everybody is now in that frame of mind, we just have to start on that process so that all of these things will be left in the past for good.”

On his limited role as a constitutional monarch:

“It is sometimes difficult for me in my role to exercise my duties, particularly during difficult times. I have had groups of people coming to me directly, seeking my intervention but as far as I am concerned, I am committed to the principles of a constitutional monarchy,” King Letsie III said.

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