Taking positives from New Zealand trip

By Sofonia Shale

THOUGH the much anticipated New Zealand trip has received mixed reactions from Basotho, the country is well on course to maintain its position as a leading democratic state in the SADC region.
The peaceful hand over of power by former premier Phakalitha Mosisili to Prime Minister Thabane did not only end the political discontent, but removed Lesotho from the list of troubled states named by the SADC-Troika, turning this Kingdom into a model state.

The recent stand-off between the security agencies and the instability in the coalition government and the alleged partisan interest of the military in the political dynamics sent out a negative signal.
Many argue that there are ominous signs suggesting Lesotho is degenerating into a problem state again. There are, however, those who believe these are mere challenges and not digression.
In light of these and the contesting viewpoints over the New Zealand trip, the begging question is can the trip be used to take Basotho back on course?
A cursory look at the purpose and scope of the trip gives the impression the unfinished business in the democratisation of Lesotho can be attended to.

This optimistic view is counteracted by the dissenting voices which argue there is nothing new in New Zealand as all the issues have, at one time or another, been formally raised for consideration and ignored by the leadership.
This argument also accuses the political leadership of being obstacles to the process.
This school of thought posits that nothing would make sense to Basotho unless it is externally suggested.

The posture that political leadership in this country has taken on political, social cohesion, economic development and peace matters has been an exclusionary, elitist and insulate from the public control.
It is on this basis that New Zealand way is seen as redundant and not of much help.
This article, however, agrees with this view in essence but differs with it in spirit.

This double barrel response is informed by first, the admission that political leadership in Lesotho does not regard Basotho as intellectually sovereign enough to read and write their own politics and secondly the relentless effort to contribute construction of the new society.

The civil society organisations and the Heads of Churches organised a national conference on national unity and democracy in preparation for 1993 elections the purpose of which was to allow Basotho to agree on how to handle new governance in the light of the mishaps of 1970 and beyond.

The BCP and the BNP rejected the conference on the grounds that it was an effort to hijack the people’s power by defining mandate of the incoming government.

The post 1993 governance challenges exonerated the church and civil society from the accusations and pointed that there was indeed a need for an inclusive dialogue on the future of Lesotho.
The request of King Moshoeshoe II who was dethroned by the military rule to be reinstated was made to the new BCP led government but was badly managed and given the circumstances predominantly the governance institutional arrangements which could have been addressed in the pre-return-to-constitutional-rule conference the incumbent King successfully unseated the government.
The civil society initiated National Forum of 1995 made recommendations for the establishment of independent electoral commission and the review of the electoral model among others.
It was only with the pressure from elsewhere that IEC was established. In fact the government is on record pronouncing its reservations on the IEC recommendation.

The review of electoral model was not done until 1998 political turmoil. When the all–party Interim Political Authority was established to among others review the electoral model, politicians regulated that their meetings should be closed and what was thought to be a consensus for them became a non-senses way of interacting among one another.
The civil society vigilant proposal of one ballot in the MMP was not only unconsidered but rejected until a discontent over seats allocation was registered in 2007, with high costs to the political stability.
The LCN sponsored introduction of one ballot which carried more than ten amendments to the original Bill on MMP passed by the Senate was rejected by the National Assembly.
The similar suggestions and arguments for the use of one ballot were rejected until Professor Reynolds who came to Lesotho and said one ballot was best for Lesotho.

Civil society activists were demonised for their alternative suggestion on how to reserve one third of local government seats for women without preventing males to contest until about half of those who went to New Zealand went to see it in Tanzania.

The call by civil society that current reservation of women special seats in local government can be made more empowering to the women by removing political party domination on it, is still regarded as bizarre. On this account it could be seen that Basotho could have been miles ahead had it not been the style of political leadership.
Many things that were cheaply available had to be bought hard because political leadership had not been so cheaply convinced.
However, this column remains firm that New Zealand is an opportunity that should not be missed in fact rejecting the trip would not be different from the sad history that leaders wrote for this country.

For several years civil society haNow that after New Zealand, government sees this as priority, there is no way that those who wanted this change cannot applaud.
The contribution of this column on ideas for the legislation of coalition governance is traceable.
Why should it not be a celebration when such ideas would be considered by the leadership as part of post New Zealand trip?
There has never been a political situation in this country where military interest was not suspected.
If there is opportunity for discussion on the role of defence in a democracy should it be rejected because leaders did not listen to the citizens’ call on a need for such?

A need for constitutional reform has been a call from different corners and if as a result of New Zealand trip it could be one of the issues to be considered should the proponents cry foul that it is recognised after New Zealand or strategise on how to engage the process?
Several other important issues such as administration of parliament and parliamentary service commission, strengthening IEC role in providing civic and electoral education and the inadequate constitutional reforms made after the introduction of MMP are but all issues that Basotho would benefit in them being engaged.

One of the problems that has rocked this country is the politicisation of civil service. The appointment for statutory positions is one area that has to be democratised, determined on merits and be transparent.
The New Zealand trip seems, in its own way, to have brought these issues on the platter of what Lesotho needs to consider in strengthening its coalition governance, so seize the opportunity and engage.
This column joins those who would do everything to ensure that this opportunity is well used and politicians are prevented from monopolising the space to unilaterally shape the future of this Kingdom.
In essence the critics are correct but on the basis of the commitment and spirit to work for the creation of a democracy where ideas are judged on their merits and not identities of their proposers, others have got no right to be tired.

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