By Sofonea Shale
THE relatively sluggish pace of developments in the post–election era, accompanied by the deafening silence from government has not only created a gap between what government intends to do and what people think. It has resulted in exaggerated rumours on the perceived challenges the seven party coalition faces in coming up with a programme of action.
Within the populace, a perception has been fermented that government is in a gridlock. In this heated partisan political divide, facts, knowledge and discourse ethics are the first casualties to be replaced by the labelling of those with dissenting voices.
It is in this context that the opening of parliament is highly anticipated by the opposition which looks forward to the government splitting on the one hand while the government also envisages the same of the opposition. The question now dominating the public sphere is whether the opening of parliament is a D-Day for government or the opposition?
This article may not be able to engage this question any further than acknowledging that that are people who believe that the discontent within the Democratic Congress may result in a split and the subsequent collapse of the coalition government. On the other hand, some allege that All Basotho Convention deputy leader Tlali Khasu will defect with others to the DC thus making the coalition government numerically stronger in parliament. The nature of these conflicts, the way they are handled and the potential consequences may be engaged in future instalments. Whether the government or opposition will split when parliament opens is something that can be understood from various aspects. Perhaps the contribution of this article could be to ascertain whether defections are possible, at least during the opening of parliament.
Section 82 (1) (b) of the Lesotho constitution which provides for the meeting of parliament after dissolution is given application by the Standing Orders. Each House of parliament has its own Standing Orders though they are fundamentally similar.
The first meeting of parliament in the context of the National Assembly is when the House first meets within 14 days after elections have been held. In this meeting, Members of Parliament (MPs) elect the speaker and take an oath in the National Assembly and, in like manner, senators elect the president and take the oath. These meetings are not the same with the first sitting of the session of parliament.
In a similar format as the first meeting of parliament, the first sitting of the session of parliament is prescribed. Once the King has signalled His desire to open by delivering a speech and when, the office of the Speaker then makes the necessary arrangements. This is normally a joint sitting where senators and MPs are collectively addressed by the King. Once His Majesty has delivered the speech which is known as the Speech from the Throne, the Speaker may suspend or adjourn sitting to a day she/he may decide. Understandably, the Speaker determines in consultation with government. When parliament resumes on the stipulated day, the National Assembly and Senate would, in their respective jurisdictions address themselves to the Speech from the Throne.
It would seem that prescribed as it is, the opening of parliament may not necessarily accommodate defections. However, this does not discard the possibility of such in the subsequent days of parliamentary work. What has to be admitted is that enthusiasm about the opening of parliament is at least for the time being misplaced as it is based on defections and the configuration of power and loyalties to support or undo government. So, even if it would be D-Day for either the government or opposition, it may be at different levels or for different reasons.
The Speech from the Throne is the presentation of government’s intensions by His Majesty. In fact what the King says at this occasion is, and should be taken as an instruction to His Majesty’s government. This is basically the promises of the government. For those who have been following the debate, this will be a D-Day for government not because it will face defection but because it will be under a critical lens. The coalition government is expected to have concretised the intentions in the recently publicised Coalition Agreement into tangible policy deliverables. As the King repeatedly says “My government will….” in His Speech, coalition government would be judged. Strategically, the opposition has not expressed itself on the Coalition Agreement but the motion to be tabled by government after the Speech from the throne will be a moment no one, including the opposition, would be spared of. When the National Assembly next meets after the Speech, the following motion would be put; “ …we, the National Assembly of Lesotho here assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks for the speech which has been delivered by your Majesty to this Honourable House” and the opposition will be equally tested.
A discrepancy between the Coalition Agreement and the Speech from the Throne would be a disaster for the government. The Speech is a test of coherent conceptualisation of government on what it wants to do. On the other hand, for the opposition it would be clarity on whether it sees government programme and deliverables articulated in the Speech from the throne adequate to take Lesotho forward. When the motion is debated, the opposition will be under the spotlight.
It is right here where its potency as either a supporter or an alternative to the narrative of DC-led coalition will be tested. Will the coalition government master the connection between the Coalition Agreement and deliverables on the policy promises? Whether the government is able or not to demonstrate coherent thinking through His Majesty’s Speech, will the opposition be able to confirm the presence or absence of such a correlation?
If this article is considered a contribution to the enthusiastic debate about the opening of parliament and what it may mean to both government and opposition, then whose D-Day is the opening of parliament? While the similar enthusiasm will be maintained about opening, surely the content will change.