. . . as Coalition partners patch up differences and announce new dispensation in Lesotho politics
The political storm — so it seems — is finally over.
After two months of uncertainty over Lesotho’s political future, the feuding parties constituting government, namely the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP), appear to have finally ironed out their differences which nearly prematurely ended Thomas Thabane’s premiership last month.
However, in a show of unity and renewed friendship, ABC leader Dr Thabane, his LCD counterpart Mothetjoa Metsing, who is also the deputy prime minister and BNP deputy leader Joang Molapo, held a press conference in Maseru on Friday last week to reassure the nation the coalition government would remain intact until the next general election in 2017.
This declaration was in stark contrast to the feuding of the past two months, during which Mr Metsing accused Dr Thabane of not consulting him and BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane, when making key decisions with a bearing on good governance.
It was this accusation which sparked a bitter fallout between the LCD and the ABC and BNP on the other hand, and nearly saw the coalition government falling apart last month — and Dr Thabane suspending parliament for nine months until 27 February 2015, to allow the three partners enough time and space to resolve their differences.
“When Basotho elected a coalition government for the first time in May 2012, it ushered Lesotho into a new phase of its democratic evolution.
“My coalition partners and I have had two years navigating this new governance dispensation and we have been on a steep learning curve,” said Dr Thabane.
“We have also made some mistakes along the way, but we are not immune to meaningful self-reflection.
“When my Coalition partners and I recently sat down to discuss the way forward, there was one realisation for which there was complete concurrence: Basotho have entrusted us with this historic and important mandate of leading Lesotho’s first Coalition Government. We are the pioneers of this mature governance model. It is a responsibility that we cannot shirk and one we cannot take lightly.”
Dr Thabane admitted there had been differences among the three parties on how government should be run, but added this was to be expected from such form of diverse leadership.
“My coalition partners and I, accept that there will be differences between us, but we will respect the wishes of the electorate for a stable coalition government.
“Over the next few months, my coalition partners and I will map a way so that, together, we will be better-poised to deliver good-governance and service-delivery to the nation.
“We will also be looking at mechanisms that allow us to ‘agree to disagree’ where necessary, while maintaining a stable government. Coalition governance demands this of us and we are committed to rise to the occasion.
“Accepting the responsibility given to us by the electorate at the last election, I can today announce that it is the intention of my coalition partners and I, together with our support partners in ‘The Block’ to work hard as a government for Basotho for the full term of the election cycle.”
The premier also said government would embark on reforms, some of which have been recommended by the Commonwealth Expert Adviser to Lesotho, Rajen Prasad, in a report the New Zealander submitted to the coalition partners a fortnight ago.
The reforms include ensuring a professional, depoliticised civil service, and restructuring parliamentary procedures to enhance its functions as an oversight body.
“Over the next few months, my coalition partners and I will diligently revisit our Coalition Agreement, taking into account the needs and interests of the people of Lesotho, our experience over the past two years and what we have learnt during this time,” said the premier.
“We will also draw on international best-practices; on the observations and discussions of the delegation to New Zealand (a 25-member delegation of local politicians, senior civil servants and civil society representatives visited New Zealand from 28 June to 5 July to learn how the country’s coalition government works) and in the recommendation in Dr Prasad’s report. We expect to take a little time to diligently work on this Agreement and when it is finalised, it will be made public.
“So this coalition will be very busy over the next few months as we use this time to reposition the government and begin, in earnest, to engage the long overdue process of transitioning to an independent and professional public service, redevelop parliamentary procedures and processes for greater accountability and access for Basotho and clarify future processes and rules when governments change.”
The ABC leader also said local politics should be about changing the lives of the people for the better, and not selfish interests.
“My coalition partners and I, are of the view that politics in Lesotho should be politics of policy and good ideas, of reform and development, of reducing poverty, of growing our economy and moving Lesotho away from its least-developed country status. The coalition government is committed to this future.
“We will be counting on all Basotho and embrace these changes. This will not be easy, but my coalition partners and I look forward to a new dawn of politics in Lesotho, and for the remaining three years of the term of this coalition government to be highly productive and responsive for all Basotho.”
On his part, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Metsing also pledged his support for the continued relationship between the BNP, ABC and LCD.
“I led a 25-strong delegation from Lesotho to New Zealand and I have previously spoken to you about how beneficial this study tour was and the impact we expect it to have on the way
governance in Lesotho is improved.
“Indeed, many of the issues we sought insight on, were matters that have been discussed by Basotho for many years.
“The delegation to New Zealand was able to appreciate that a coalition government is perhaps the best opportunity for us to make progress on significant issues such as having a non-political public service and reforming parliament. I echo the prime minister’s views that the past two years of coalition governance have been a steep learning curve for us as partners. Indeed, I venture to add that all Basotho are experiencing a political awakening with this new dispensation.
“When, as coalition partners, we reflected together on the mandate we have been given, and that which we have accepted, we realise that we may be different parties in government, with differing philosophies, and so there will inevitably be differences, but we understand one thing: Lesotho will have achieved a significant milestone if we completely execute our mandate as stable Coalition partners to the best of our abilities.
“We understand that if we do this, we send a signal to Africa and the rest of the world that we are moving democracy forward in this country. We still have a long way to go, and there is much more learning and talking to do.
“As the prime minister said, the Coalition will be using the next few months to revisit our Coalition Agreement and find ways to ensure that this first Coalition government is stable even when we must disagree.
“We already had significant legislation to impact the lives of Basotho in motion, and we will be working to ensure that when parliament re-opens, which we hope will be soon, we will have a solid programme of work and reforms to progress. I look forward to these deliberations over the next few months with my coalition partners and to working with them to strengthen and enhance governance”.
Chief Molapo, who was standing in for his leader, Chief ‘Maseribane, also pledged the BNP support for the current Coalition.
“Minister ‘Maseribane is honoured and humbled to be part of the leadership of Lesotho’s first coalition government.
“We are committed to the mandate given to us by the electorate, and we will support this coalition government for its full term.
“Minister ‘Maseribane tasked me to represent him on the New Zealand study tour. It was an eye-opening experience and, under the leadership of the deputy prime minister, the delegation was clear that there were certain reforms that we must address with urgency.
“The prime minister has outlined these and we are in full support. We call on the support of all Basotho as we recognise that achieving these lofty objectives will not be easy, but we are committed to doing what we can with your help and that of our development partners.
“The past two years have seen successes, and of course, there have been many challenges. Let us not forget that when this coalition government first came together in the national interest, there was much hope that we could bridge our differences and better advance the interests of Basotho.
“Yes, there was scepticism from some quarters about how long the coalition could last and how much change we could effect.
“However, I am pleased that our recent challenges have brought out the mettle of the leadership of this coalition government. Yes, there are challenges, but we are committed to staying the course and delivering positive changes to the lives of Basotho. We will not take this mandate lightly.
“In this regard, over the next few months we will work with our coalition partners to revisit the Coalition Agreement and fine-tune mechanism so that we can better deal with our inevitable differences. We will also be looking to entrench development policies in these negotiations.
“We are confident that with this approach, this coalition government will stand together in the next parliament and build on the foundations we have laid in the past two years; draw on what we have learnt, and take bold steps to take Lesotho forward to a brighter future”.