Exiled All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane has called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to “take command” of the Lesotho army and police while the country embarks on “radical and inclusive” political and security reforms.
Dr Thabane also says a body comprising “all key stakeholders” should lead the reform process for Lesotho to have lasting peace and stability.
Addressing a press conference at his refuge in Ficksburg, South Africa on Sunday, the ABC leader further said the “dangerous relationship between government and the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) must be eliminated and SADC must take command of the army and police” to ensure “a level playing field” in the establishment of this organization and during the reform process.
Dr Thabane, who fled Lesotho in May last year amid allegations some LDF members were plotting to kill him, further said the body should be similar to the 1998 Interim Political Authority (IPA) which introduced the Proportional Representation (PR) electoral model.
The IPA was established by an Act of Parliament and comprised two representatives from all political parties which contested the 1998 general elections.
Dr Thabane added all key stakeholders should be involved in the reforms to ensure their acceptance by the people.
The ABC leader, who was speaking in the presence of the party’s deputy leader Tlali Khasu, chairperson Motlohi Maliehe, secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele and Members of Parliament, emphasised the need to ensure the reforms are “inclusive”.
“What is key is that the country must undergo radical and inclusive constitutional, political, public service and security sector reforms, which should be identified, decided and formulated jointly by all Lesotho stakeholders,” Dr Thabane said.
“For credible reforms to take place, the ABC stand is as follows: the government should establish an independent reform process similar to the Independent Political Authority deployed following the 1998 political conflict, and consisting of all political parties and civil society and assisted by SADC and international cooperating partners, including the Commonwealth. Such a body should be operational as soon as possible;
“SADC should serve as an overseer and facilitator and appoint a permanent envoy for the duration of the dialogue on reforms;
“The wider international community, particularly, African Union, United Nations and Commonwealth should provide support and;
“Reform proposals by the Commonwealth (the New Zealand reforms) and SADC (Constitutional and Institutional Reforms) should form the basis from which to work.”
Dr Thabane also said there is need to end what he called a “dangerous” relationship between the army and government if the reforms are to materialise.
“To prepare a level playing field for the consultation, the dangerous relationship between government and the armed forces should be eliminated.
“A temporary SADC command of the LDF and to a lesser extent, the police, will be required to cultivate a conducive climate for the reform consultation.
“In parallel, all those responsible for the murder in June 2015 of former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, should be charged and prosecuted under a credible judicial process,” said Dr Thabane.
The reforms, he added, would ensure Lesotho functions properly under a coalition government.
Dr Thabane led Lesotho’s first coalition government when his ABC entered into an alliance with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) after the 2012 general elections had resulted in a hung parliament. However, the government collapsed due to persistent squabbles between Dr Thabane and LCD leader and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, leading to an early election in February 2015.
“The first coalition government collapsed due to lack of readiness by political parties to manage coalitions under a Mixed Member Proportional Representation model,” Dr Thabane explained.
“Lesotho established its first coalition government without the requisite legal instruments and practices. First, the constitution and other laws fell short on several fronts, including clarifying the roles of key positions when power is shared between political parties.
“Second, institutions for forming and running government also lacked the capacity required to support and oversee an executive comprising several parties.
“Lesotho’s democracy also seemed to lack basic elements of democracy such as segregation and sovereignty of power and the principle of checks and balances.”
Dr Thabane also noted the relationship between the army and political parties had “undermined” the country’s democracy since independence in 1966.
“Frequent alignments between security establishments and political parties have undermined our democracy for the last 50 years,” he said.
“Politicians are able to leverage political power through alignments with officers of the army, who can then mount an intimidation campaign throughout the election period and encourage inappropriate behaviour.
“Reforms should be undertaken to sever any possibilities of such alignments between political parties and security forces.”
He also said the ABC proposes the reforms should safeguard the PR system from abuse, as well as Senate seats.
“Proportional representation and Senate seats are increasingly being used by parties forming government to reward members who have lost elections or have played significant roles to undermine sitting governments,” the ABC leader said.
“The 11 seats in the Upper House have been used traditionally to bring experts into government.
“However, in recent times, they are increasingly being used to reward politicians who have lost their seats.
“When voters express choice, but the choice is subverted by the party leadership in bringing into parliament and government, politicians who competed and lost seats, it undermines and weakens democracy.
“The recent allocation of Senate seats points to the need to review the architecture of the Upper House. Perhaps it is time for political parties to field adequate professionals to support a professional government and for the Senate or party to be elected,” said Thabane.
He also noted Lesotho had been “ushered into an era where popular votes are distorted by small parties that become kingmakers” of coalition governments.
“Lesotho’s electoral model, while compensating for popular vote performance, has introduced new distortions that undermine democracy.
“Deep personal mistrusts have ensured that large parties cannot come together to form government.
“Instead, smaller parties have become kingmakers that hold large parties to ransom, dictating beyond their vote tallies how governments should be established and run, and all the time threatening to scuttle the government of the day.
“This contrived formations is inconsistent with the will of the people. It is regrettably due to past political reforms that have not truly gone to the heart of entrenching proper democracy.”
He also said the country had not benefitted from numerous previous domestic and international efforts to establish lasting peace and needs to ensure the current intervention is effective.
“Each iteration of mediation has calmed the current conflict, but failed to address the underlying causes for the ongoing conflict. The same board themes have emerged in each round of conflict, namely deliberate politicisation of the Lesotho Defence Force and the broader public service; polarisation of society on political lines with conflict overtones and the absence of political commitment to necessary reforms and lasting peace and stability,” said Dr Thabane.
He further said the critical challenge facing the country was how to restore mutual trust among political actors and implement the required reforms.
“There is urgent need for political leaders to restore mutual trust amongst their followers and promote a culture of tolerance and common interests of Basotho ahead of partisan interests.
“Reversing polarisation and seeking reconciliation will pave the way for security and parliamentary reforms within a framework of political stability, trusts and national unity, good governance and accelerated economic and social growth transformation and respect for the rule of law and human rights,” said Dr Thabane.
Contacted for comment yesterday, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson Motumi Ralejoe said: “SADC is a regional institution founded by governments and works with governments.
“It should be clear that SADC has given our government time to show how it is going to address the reforms issues.
“It is only fair for government to be given space to address the recommendations. And government will report to the SADC summit to be held in Swaziland in August what it has achieved. The opposition should go before parliament as it is a national platform for them to address any political issues they might have.
“It’s also important that society should accept this is a democratically elected government of the day and the buck stops with this government.
“The government’s role it to prepare a report on the recommendations and submit progress achieved to the SADC summit.
“However, it’s disturbing and ill-advised and thoughts not meant to promote peace but only divisions within society to suggest our security agencies should be commanded by SADC.
“This government can run its own affairs competently. Suggestions that SADC should take over the command of the police and the army are frivolous and a nonstarter”.