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Opposition parties fume after meeting Commonwealth boss

Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU — Opposition parties were left fuming on Thursday after meeting Commonwealth secretary-general Kamalesh Sharma, describing him as “condescending and indifferent” to Lesotho’s political problems.

They said Sharma who was on a two-day visit to Lesotho had shown that he had nothing to offer to help solve their current dispute with the government over proportional representation seats which they say were stolen by the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy in the 2007 elections.

They said they were hoping that the Commonwealth boss would offer some assistance to help resolve the PR seats fiasco that has remained a source of sour relations between the opposition and the government since 2007.

Instead, the opposition leaders said, they found “Sharma to be cold and aloof” when they decided to introduce the issue.

Particularly upset was Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) leader Moeketse Malebo, one of the few opposition leaders who attended the meeting on Friday and acted as spokesperson for the day.

“Sharma had absolutely nothing significant to put on the table except to introduce himself to the government and the opposition,” Malebo said after the meeting

“He was condescending and seemed to think very little of us.”

Malebo added: “We told him that his predecessor played a minor role in the whole PR debacle to ensure that our problems were solved. He seemed to take offence when we said that.”

“I saw him get angry when we unequivocally told him that the Commonwealth has kept away from our problems,” he said.

The MFP leader noted that they had been offended by Sharma’s attitude and went on to label him part of international “civil servants” who had become accustomed to bow to the wilol of dictators.

“Because he considered himself a guest of the state, he took us lightly. People like him pamper the dictators calling themselves leaders. They find it hard to say ‘no’ to them,” Malebo said.

Main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party leader Thomas Thabane accused the Commonwealth secretary-general of regarding himself as exclusively a guest of the government.

“We did not have much to talk about. We touched lightly on the PR issue. He was indifferent. For him meeting the opposition was out of courtesy,” he said.

However, Malebo confessed that the meeting allowed the opposition to share with Sharma their opinion and position on governance issues in Lesotho.

Malebo said Sharma was told of how his predecessor Don Mackinnon was warned of the possibility of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral model being subverted.

“This ultimately happened but that the Commonwealth turned a blind eye to the country’s challenges until now,” he said.

“Nevertheless we put it to him that governance was not going as smoothly as he seemed to think and that he should pay attention to Lesotho.

“We brought to his attention the fact that our government is not interested in maintaining law, that as we make laws in parliament, it always goes out of its way to undermine them via the majority it has,” Malebo said.  

Sharma on his part offered to be more hands-on in developing and empowering the Independent Electoral Commission, Malebo said.

Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla however scoffed at the opposition saying Sharma’s visit had afforded the government an opportunity to brief the Commonwealth on the reforms to the “constitution and electoral laws”.

“We discussed with Mr Sharma the National Assembly Electoral Bill 2011 which is currently in the Senate and will probably be enacted after the Easter break,” Lehohla said.

“We also briefed him about work done on the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2010 which addresses among others the establishment of a human rights commission in Lesotho.”

Sharma also promised that the Commonwealth was committed to helping the IEC develop by increasing its capacity so that it becomes more effective, Lehohla said.

Ways to help the youth create jobs instead of expecting to be employed by the government as well as empowering women in various aspects of their lives, also featured prominently in the discussions, the Deputy Prime Minister said.

“Therefore it defies logic why opposition leaders are saying that which they are saying,” Lehohla said.

The Commonwealth secretary general also had an audience with King Letsie III and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili before leaving the country around lunchtime.

The Commonwealth is a grouping of 54 countries, mainly former British colonies.

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