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Preserving peace beyond prorogation of parliament

Analysis by Sofonia Shale

Although the constitutionality of prorogation of parliament has, after the fierce debate in the public domain, been endorsed, the struggle of who shall legitimately hold control of executive authority during the nine months of prorogation is far from ending, in fact it has just started.

The grand question for the Kingdom is: “Do our politicians have the stamina, courage and endurance to sustain the politicking within the confines of the law?”

Since the public announcement by the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing that the All Basotho Convention (ABC) led coalition has not been what it was originally thought and planned to be, there have been several significant political developments.

The LCD-Democratic Congress (DC) talks, Prime Minister and ABC leader Thomas Thabane’s public-assuring announcement on the continued ABC, LCD and Basotho National Party (BNP) coalition and the SADC Troika Chair visit, all point to the reality
that there are more uncertainties for the alliance.

Although there is a SADC-brokered dialogue for the ABC, BNP and LCD which the trio have agreed to give a chance, the LCD and DC have found one another as partners in government, with other parties of congress-orientation as stewards.

Some people believe that the wedding bells for the LCD and DC, marked by the signed agreement by their leaders to form an alternative coalition government which is a pointer to the end of the ABC-led government, render the SADC talks rhetoric.
In the contrary, there are those who see the talks as the last effort to save the present coalition.

In a little different way from these polarised positions, this article calls for a broader conceptualisation of not only the power of dialogue but also the relevance of these SADC-led talks at this particular time.

The agreement of any political parties to form government as the LCD and DC have done, would have to be part of parliamentary procedure for it to be communicated to the Council of State and subsequently, the King, to effect any change in the position of the prime minister.

This suggests that parliament has to be opened. If it was still adjourned sina die, the Speaker would, in consultation with the Leader of the House, who is also a leader of the LCD and the Deputy Prime Minister, summon parliament to express the change of support to the sitting prime minister.

Now that parliament is barred from discussing the motion of no-confidence, maybe the LCD Members of Parliament (MPs) would cross the floor and leave the ABC leader with an insufficient majority to qualify for the premiership in terms of Section 87(2) of the Constitution, which is the founding article of the country’s executive authority.

Although the Constitution provides, in Section 87(5) (a) and (b) the motion of no-confidence and defeat in elections as conditions under which the King may remove the prime minister acting on the advice of the Council of State, the cardinal principle is that one can only be head of executive authority by leading the majority of members of the National Assembly.

In a sense, the prime minister would have to resign because he would have no right in terms of Section 87(2) to hold office.
Now that parliament has been prorogued, it may no longer be summoned by the Speaker in consultation with the Leader of the House; by law, they are not entitled.

It is only the King who can summon it on the day stipulated in the prorogation gazette or sooner if so advised by the prime minister.

This means that the said due parliamentary procedure would then be done when parliament is made.
Those who read and write politics will tell, in no uncertain terms, that February 2015, when the prorogation is supposed to end, is too far for the LCD and DC.

The option that remains for the LCD-DC government-in-waiting would be to mount pressure on the prime minister to advise the King to summon parliament sooner.
Will he agree?
Assuming that the answer to this question is in the negative, what would be the business of the PM towards February?
Would it not be opportunity for the use of power by one to the detriment of another of the parties in conflict?

This clearly shows that the LCD, even if it has reached a point of no return in terms of the current coalition, has issues to take to the SADC-led talks.
It could use this to advance the need to persuade the PM to advise the King to summon parliament.
If the ABC and BNP still believe that there is a possibility to repair the coalition, they have an opportunity to negotiate with the LCD.

It is common knowledge in mediation that parties in conflict take positions which are hard to mediate.
Normally, a position is a stance that one takes and in this case, is the decision of the LCD to quit.

This may not be effectively mediated by asking or encouraging it not to quit, rather effective mediation is to seek what underlies the position.
What may be appealing to the LCD would not necessarily be showing it benefits of staying but addressing what necessitates the decision to quit.

The parties, however, should be able to negotiate peace; whatever they agree or disagree upon should preserve peace.
The fluidity of legislative framework in term of parliamentary democracy on issues like the formation of government, clarity on prorogation, unguided coalition administration and sharing of responsibilities and powers would remain challenges even if a new government is born.
There is no evidence, at least until now, that one single party can form government.
It is therefore important that negotiations do not only leave room for this reality but also preserve peace to allow Basotho work on these challenges effectively.

The SADC-mediation or facilitation, to be precise, is well-positioned though limited in some aspects.
The SADC is accepted by all parties in dialogue which gives it a good start.
Parties are willingly submitting to the dialogue processes.
Again, the SADC commands a political authority that is assuring to the parties.

Whatever interests parties are advancing, everyone has hope that what is agreed in the talks may enjoy some respect.
While the SADC may have these necessary ingredients for mediation, it certainly lacks the local knowledge.
If the mediator is not knowledgeable of the reality on the ground, it may not be helpful.
The previous SADC encounter in Lesotho was the most successful in a situation where the regional body had earlier retired its mediation mission prematurely.

The secret behind that successful SADC face-saving process was the combination of the local and external mediation.
Though it is in the habit of states to be suspicious of civil society organisations, the Lesotho case is a different one.
What civil society has done in this country, particularly in mediating on political issues, can only be ignored at the expense of peace of this nation.

In this way, the SADC-led talks are not rhetoric nor are they coercion to arm-twist the LCD.
The trio can use this effectively to be a peace accord.

Please ensure that even if you disagree on any of the issues your parties would have wanted to gain, agree on peace and commit that whatever positions you take you will respect the constitution, play politics of persuasion and resistance within the confines of the constitution.

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