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PR talks doomed to fail: Thabane

MASERU — All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane is currently studying a draft report compiled by church leaders mediating in the long-running dispute between the government and the opposition over proportional representation seats. He is expected to present his proposed amendments to the report when the talks resume next week. But Thabane believes the talks will collapse because he says the government does not want to compromise on fundamental issues. In the following interview with the Sunday Express (SE), Thabane discusses why he is pessimistic about the future of the talks.

SE: What’s your impression of the draft report that you have received from the church leaders mediating in the on-going dispute between the government and the opposition over proportional representation seats?

THABANE: That report is unacceptable. It cannot be signed in that form. It is totally not compatible with what we discussed at the United Nations House during the talks.

SE: Are you saying the draft report exaggerated or omitted some key issues that you discussed with the government?

THABANE: We are saying that draft report does not capture the things that we discussed because the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) government has totally ignored our concerns. The government has said it does not want to listen to what the opposition has to say about the issue.

SE: But surely there are other areas where the government and the opposition seem to have found common ground. There are issues of the law reform and the position of the opposition leader in parliament.

THABANE: The government has not made a compromise at all. They have not compromised on the fundamental issues. All they agreed to do was to come to the talks and nothing more. The LCD is going against the will of the other 18 opposition parties simply because it is in the government. That is not fair. It’s unjust. To me there is no difference between the LCD government and the military regime. At least the military regime did not pretend to be a democratic government. They were clear that they were a military government. Now we are being governed by a plain-clothed military government that pretends to be democratic when it is the opposite.

SE: You seem to be pessimistic about the whole process and the willingness of the government to make progress in the talks. Why did you agree to have the talks in the first place if you were wary of the process and the government?

THABANE: I was going in there because I respect the church and what it stands for. I respect the church leaders who are leading the mediation. But this government has shown that it has no respect for the church and the values of Christianity. They don’t respect anyone or anything, not even the church. It’s a pity because we claim to be a Christian nation. We thought the government would at least listen to the church and try to sort out the mess created by the proportional representation seats.

SE: You obviously had a wish-list of things that you wanted sorted out through the dialogue.

THABANE: I wanted us to have national unity. I wanted us to admit that mistakes were made and we are willing to sort them out as a nation. That is what I wanted. I was not saying the government should step down because we all agree that they are a legitimate government. They were put there by votes. We were merely saying that they should give back the seats that were stolen from the opposition. We were saying they must acknowledge that a democratic parliament must include a leader of the opposition. We were saying that the essentials of democracy must be respected. Yet they have the nerve to twist those issues and claim that we are refusing to accept the election results. It’s not about money but principles.  I don’t care about money.

SE: So you believe that the talks that will resume next week are likely to fail?

THABANE: I had intended to use the talks to push for the amendment of the constitution and the electoral laws. I wanted us to remove the inconsistencies that got us into these problems in the first place. But the government was not interested in doing that. They refused to compromise so the talks will not achieve anything. I believe the government does not want to deal with those issues because it is afraid that it will lose the next election. They have totally refused to deal with these issues. The LCD government cannot win a free and fair election because it has lost support in the rural areas.

SE: You say there is no hope that anything will come out of the talks. You also say the government is belligerent. What then will you do if the talks indeed collapse as you predict will happen next week?

THABANE: It’s unfortunate because the aggression with which Sadc has dealt with such issues in the past has diminished significantly.  The Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security was created so that no country in the region remains undemocratic. The idea was that no country must be less democratic than other regional peers. Lesotho at the moment is less democratic than South Africa and Namibia. Lesotho must really change.

SE: You still have not answered the question. What will you do if the talks collapse? Many people want to know what you will do as the leader of the main opposition party in this country.

THABANE: We cannot just sit and be oppressed forever. I know not of any people who have done that. In the meantime we have to give dialogue a chance. We have to respect Sadc and the African Union. We want to give even our neighbour, South Africa, a chance to help us deal with these problems. South Africa is not happy about our situation. They are not happy about the economic refugees that are coming into the country because our government cannot provide an environment where people get jobs. Our problems are artificial. Apartheid was real so South African refugees had to come here because they were in the firing line. But how do we justify our people trekking to their country?

SE: Why did you not go to the Peace March on Friday?

THABANE: Why should I celebrate non-existent peace? I did not go there. I was meeting the people in the villages. In fact, people in the villages were actually shocked that there was a Peace March in Maseru. People in the villages are suffering. They are starving. You should come with me on my village visits next time so you see that people are really suffering. You will see families that have not eaten for days. That is why people will vote this government out of power. More people are coming to my rallies and the old people have realised that the M300 old-age pension they are getting is just not enough to buy food.

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