South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa returns to Lesotho tomorrow to continue his facilitation as the country battles to reclaim its political and security stability.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) last month appointed Mr Ramaphosa to mediate in Lesotho’s squabbles, and has since brokered the Maseru Facilitation Declaration under which Basotho would hold early elections in February 2015.
Mr Ramaphosa was in Maseru on Friday to witness the reconvening of parliament following its nine-month suspension on 10 June 2014 by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to avert a no-confidence vote. The 17 October reconvening of the legislature was the first obligation of the Declaration, and would be followed by the House’s dissolution in early December and snap election next February.
The snap election, which was supposed to be held in 2017, was prompted by a bitter fallout between the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) leaders, who formed a coalition government in June 2012.
The dispute, sparked by ABC leader, Dr Thabane’s alleged failure to consult his fellow coalition government leaders—Mothetjoa Metsing and Thesele ‘Maseribane of the LCD and BNP respectively—when making key decisions, such as the suspension of parliament, has also left the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) divided, hence the security crisis.
Speaking at a press conference held in Maseru soon after Friday’s reopening of the parliament, Mr Ramaphosa said he would be frequenting the country, starting tomorrow, 20 October, until the elections are held in four months’ time. The SADC Facilitator is expected to attend tomorrow’s first session of parliament and then engage various stakeholders to discuss, among others, the issue of the command of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and last week’s dismissal of Selibe Mochoboroane as Communications, Science and Technology minister by the premier. Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli has since rejected his dismissal as LDF commander by Dr Thabane, arguing it was procedural.
However, Mr Ramaphosa is optimistic the Declaration would lead to a stable and prosperous Lesotho.
“We have a roadmap, a roadmap to the future, to a more stable Lesotho. This roadmap gives us a number of signposts. Today was the first signpost, the opening of parliament, and beyond that, there are quite a number of things that we have to do. I have no doubt that we will achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves,” Mr Ramaphosa said.
“One of those goals is that parliament would be meeting first to debate the King’s Speech, which he gave today in parliament, and thereafter, the election budget. Nothing else is going to be debated other than to prepare the country for elections. So that, in itself, is an important signpost that is clearly set-out in the roadmap that we all agreed to.”
According to Mr Ramaphosa, it was important to note that all the political parties in parliament had agreed to uphold the Maseru Facilitation Declaration roadmap their leaders signed on 2 October 2014.
“It is fully owned by all the parties and I have no doubt whatsoever that they intend to implement it to the letter. After that debate on the budget, parliament would be dissolved and parties will go to the people to campaign for their votes.
“In the meantime, the Independent Electoral Commission will prepare the country for elections,” he said.
The roadmap, he added, was “fairly straightforward” towards returning Lesotho to constitutional normalcy, political and security stability.
“This roadmap is underwritten by a range of stakeholders in Lesotho other than those political parties that are represented in parliament.
“It is underwritten by the churches, traditional leaders, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). And I must say Lesotho has a rich history of NGO-involvement in its civic affairs and it has got a plethora of such organisations.
“They were well-represented in the consultations and their voices were strong and well-articulated and they also underwrote this roadmap,” Mr Ramaphosa said.
“I will be frequenting Lesotho to oversee what was hatched from the views of the people of Lesotho and not from anywhere.
“It’s not a SADC-imposed roadmap; it’s not from Addis Ababa or anywhere else. It is a roadmap that is home-grown and that evolved out of the people of Lesotho through their various organisations.
“So do I have any doubt it would be implemented? No; not at all. It will be implemented because it is, if you like, a Lesotho plan to further stability”.
On his part, Dr Thabane said Members of Parliament (MPs) had taken “a leap of faith” to cut short their five-year terms of office as a compromise.
“When you win an election in a constituency, you’d find that most people do so through hard work. And they get themselves a five-year job. When Deputy President Ramaphosa says you are not going to be in this parliament for five years, and people say thank you very much, that’s very unique in its own way because our term of office is cut and we seek no compensation for the remaining years. It also means that when you were sleeping and doing nothing in your constituency which is our system here, the people won’t elect you anymore. So you literally opt to throw the dice and its either you get your job back or you don’t,” Dr Thabane said.
The ABC leader emphasised that MPs had made “a sacrifice” to forfeit their remaining two years-plus in office for the sake of peace and stability in Lesotho.
Dr Thabane added the fact that the Maseru Facilitation Declaration and other peace agreements which resulted in the reopening of parliament were brokered by SADC was “ a clear sign” of the region’s “deepening” understanding of democracy.