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Clip the prime minister’s powers

  • fed-up nation demands,
  • as Majoro promises to restore public confidence in the govt.

Mohalenyane Phakela

MOST Basotho are angry and frustrated with the current political system and they believe the solution lies in wholesale reforms that will not only clip the prime ministers’ powers but also facilitate his direct election by voters and reduce his tenure to just two terms.

This according to the latest survey findings by the respected Afrobarometer research institute. Most of the respondents believe that instead of solving the country’s problems, politicians have been fuelling them through poor service delivery and self-serving actions that include interfering in the affairs of the army and judiciary.

So frustrated are the majority of the respondents with the country’s politicians that 76 percent of them say the country “is not a democracy” at all.

This represents a significant increase from just 53 percent who held similar views on the issue in 2017.

As part of the remedial measures, the majority of Basotho are proposing a host of constitutional reforms to significantly clip the prime minister’s powers.

If the majority Basotho holding these views were to have their way in the proposed multi-sector reforms, there would be a minimum age of 40 for one to be a prime minister and maximum age of 60. The prime minister, who would only serve for two terms, would be elected through a direct vote by the electorate and not by parliament as per the current system.

The despondency and distrust of the political system has not gone unnoticed.

Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro on Friday acknowledged that the nation had lost faith in the political system due to the selfishness of politicians who appeared more focused on maximising their personal gains at the expense of service delivery once they were elected to power.

Dr Majoro came to power on 20 May 2020. He succeeded his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party leader Thomas Thabane who was forced to step down over various issues including allegations of murdering his ex-wife, Lipolelo, on 14 June 2017.

Speaking to the Southern African Broadcasting Services (SABC) in a belated interview to mark his first 100 days in power, Dr Majoro said his government was working hard to restore public confidence. He conceded that he did not know when, if at all, their efforts would achieve the desired results.

If the latest Afrobarometer survey findings are anything to go by then Dr Majoro not only needs to work very hard but he has to work fast to restore the public confidence which has waned to a point where the majority are even saying Lesotho is not even a democracy in the first place.

“Three quarters of Basotho (76 percent) say either the country is not a democracy or they are not satisfied with the way democracy is working. This figure is up from 53 percent (who said the same thing) in 2017,” the Afrobarometer states in its findings released over the weekend.

The findings come at a time when Lesotho has embarked on multi-sector reforms aimed at achieving lasting peace and stability seen as crucial to socio-economic development.

In terms of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommendations in 2016, Lesotho was supposed to have fully implemented constitutional and security sector reforms by May 2019. It had been envisaged that the constitutional and security sector reforms would be followed by the implementation of judiciary, media and governance reforms.

The reforms process has stagnated due to bickering among politicians and constant changes in government. The latest change occurred four months ago when Mr Thabane’s four party coalition collapsed and made way for the current Majoro-led coalition anchored by the ABC and Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu’s Democratic Congress (DC).

Even as the reforms process is only beginning to show signs of flickering into life with the ongoing processes to constitute and appoint key officials at the National Reforms Authority, there are some points of convergence among most Basotho about some of the key issues to be addressed by the constitutional, judicial and security sector reforms.

The survey findings show overwhelming disapproval of the politicians and greater support for His Majesty King Letsie III. Another survey conducted earlier this year showed that 66 percent of Basotho wanted the King to be given a greater say in the affairs of the nation.

The latest survey findings showed similar levels of support for King Letsie III with even more people (90 percent) saying they would want the king to have the power to appoint a caretaker government in the event of a successful no-confidence vote in parliament against the prime minister.

Conversely, most Basotho think that the shortcomings of the current political system could be addressed through constitutional reforms that would curtail the powers of the prime minister.

The starting point would be to amend the constitution to allow voters to directly elect the prime minister, the majority of the respondents said. This prime minister would be limited to just two terms in office.

“A strong majority of Basotho support constitutional reforms circumscribing the role of the prime minister, including term limits, age restrictions and direct election by voters…

“Two-thirds (65 percent) of the respondents support limiting the prime minister to a maximum of two terms in office, an increase from 51 percent who supported such limitations in 2008.

“Six in 10 (62 percent) also favour instituting a minimum age for candidates for prime minister and even more (72 percent) support a maximum age. When asked what the minimum age should be, the most common response is 40 years… For the maximum age, the respondents propose 60 years…

“Another proposed reform concerns the method of electing the prime minister. Under the current system, parliamentarians elect the prime minister from among their ranks. However, more than eight in 10 Basotho (85 percent) want the prime minister to be directly elected by voters, including nearly two-thirds (64 percent) who “strongly agree” with this proposal.”

Afrobarometer also found that most Basotho feel that the executive interferes with the military and the judiciary through the dismissal and appointment of judges.

They therefore want the premier to be stripped of his powers to appoint key officials including the chief justice and the army commander. They want these powers to be given to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and parliament respectively.

In terms of the current laws, the prime minister recommends the appointment of the chief justice and army commander to the King.

“Another issue that reform proposals should address are concerns that the executive interferes with the judiciary, through the dismissal and appointment of judges and with the leadership of the military…

“Eight in 10 respondents (82 percent) say that judges should no longer be appointed by the prime minister but should instead be appointed by the Judicial Service Commission. And nearly as many (78 percent) say that the power to appoint the head of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) should be reassigned from the prime minister to parliament.

“Basotho also support a proposed constitutional reform that would penalise members of parliament (MPs) for changing parties …

“More than eight in 10 respondents (83 percent) agree that “floor crossing” – when an MP switches political parties – should require the MP to lose his or her seat in parliament. This change is particularly popular among more-educated citizens (90 percent of those with post-secondary qualifications) and supporters of the ruling party coalition (88 percent),” the Afrobarometer states.

It appears the despondency and distrust of the political system has not gone unnoticed as Dr Majoro acknowledged the nation’s concerns in his Friday interview with SABC.

“The country has lost political interest in its political system due to politicians who have failed to honour commitments we make as politicians. People absolutely have no interest in politics or confidence in politicians.

“It has been about 120 days (since the advent of the current government) and we are working very hard to restore some faith in the government of Lesotho. I do not know when we will ultimately secure that faith in government but we are working on it.

“We have tasks, deliverables that we need to achieve and in the two years that we have (until the next elections in 2022), there is not enough time. But believe me I am running around. So is my team running across the country to see how we can fix things. It has been fascinating as we are looking at things quite innovatively and differently from what has been done in the past. We are working together as groups in parliament and we have also brought in some additional expertise.

“I have responsibility to deliver some of the promises we made to our people. It’s a country with endemic conflicts. Politicians have never had time to put together plans that can change the situation and bring prosperity to Lesotho.

“For as long as Lesotho is poor, there will always be jostling for power because politics are the shortest route to taxpayer funded benefits. You can link the instability to the vicious circle where everybody fights to come into the political system.

“But the people that are coming in (to government) tend to be the desperate ones who come in to see whether they can irk a living in the political system. It is a vicious circle that has haunted this country for 54 years (since independence). That circle must break and in these 20 months that we have, we must break that vicious circle and put Lesotho on a different path from the one it has been for the past 54 years.”

He said the security agencies had stopped meddling in politics. He said the army was now a stable institution and his government was working on stabilising the police force.

“Security forces have had enough of civilian political interference in their affairs. If you look at the history of conflict in this country, they have always involved political principals and members of the security agencies.  But only members of the security agencies had paid the price through punishment while the political principals have always escaped sanctions.

“It has got to a point now that security forces say we cannot continue to support you politicians for your ambitions yet when the time to account comes, only security forces are sanctioned. The army is now stable but there are factions within the police force which I’m dealing with at the moment. I have my colleagues who are working on understanding the problems and coming up with the permanent solutions,” Dr Majoro said. He was referring to the power struggle between Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli and his subordinates in the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA).

For more than a year, Commissioner Molibeli has been underfire from his subordinates in LEPOSA. They want him fired by Prime Minister Majoro over a plethora of issues including his alleged incompetence and failure to address their grievances.

They accuse him of unprocedurally promoting his close allies like Deputy Police Commissioner (DCP) Paseka Mokete and Assistant Police Commissioner (ACP) Beleme Lebajoa.

They also accuse him of failing to address the issue of police brutality. In a bid to address the infighting in the police force, Dr Majoro last month set up an inter-ministerial committee to probe the instability.

The committee includes Police and Public Safety Minister ‘Mamoipone Senauoane, fellow ministers Prince Maliehe (Defence and National Security), Kemiso Mosenene (Prime Minister’s Office) and Professor Nqosa Mahao (Law and Justice) who is its chairperson.

It has since completed its task and submitted its findings which are yet to be made public. Dr Majoro last week blamed political interference, stretching over many years, as the root cause of instability in the police force.

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