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Why congress parties snubbed inauguration

by Sunday Express
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A tractor carries a mock coffin symbolising the ‘burial’ of the LCD party in the snap elections

Tefo Tefo

THE seven parties in the former coalition government say they snubbed Friday’s inauguration of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane at Setsoto stadium to avoid being humiliated by supporters of the new four-party administration.

The Congress parties say their decision was vindicated by the “shameful” spectacle of a tractor pulling a trailer with a mock coffin with Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) colours “at a supposedly national event” and the heckling of Anglican Church of Lesotho Bishop Mallane Adam Taaso.

However, the All Basotho Convention (ABC) has laughed off the claims, saying the mock coffin was meant to symbolise the demise of the LCD and Democratic Congress (DC).

Dr Thabane was inaugurated amid pomp and circumstance on Friday to mark his second bite of the premiership after having initially served in that capacity from June 2012 to March 2015.

Dr Thabane’s ABC and the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) cobbled up the 63 seats they garnered in the 3 June 2017 parliamentary elections to form Lesotho’s third coalition government.

The seven-party former coalition government led by DC leader Pakalitha Mosisili could only muster a combined 47 seats, which were 14 short of the 61-seat threshold to form a majority in the 120-seat National Assembly.

Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara administered the oath of office to the 78-year-old Dr Thabane in a fully packed national stadium.

Some of the notable attendees of the inauguration were Zambian President Edgar Lungu and South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa who was tasked in 2014 by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help resolve Lesotho’s political crises as facilitator to the Mountain Kingdom.

In his inauguration address, Dr Thabane vowed to prioritise the constitutional, security and political reforms recommended by SADC to “stop the causes of the two-year cycles of elections”.

Dr Thabane also promised to “reintroduce a culture of respect for human rights” in light of accusations the Dr Mosisili-led government allowed the torture of soldiers accused of mutiny and other infractions.

“We also commit to good governance with an emphasis on accountability,” he said.

“This coalition government commits to rescue Lesotho from the current downward spiral into lawlessness, conflict, political instability, economic stagnation and degradation of democracy.”

The new prime minister also promised to address Lesotho’s acute poverty, which according to the United Nations Development Programme affected 56.2 percent of the population, by ensuring the government was a “catalyst for economic growth”.

Dr Thabane, whose estranged wife, Lipolela Alice Thabane was killed last Wednesday night by unknown assailants outside her home in Ha Masana, also vowed to track down the assailants.

So far, no arrests have been made in the killing with police investigations ongoing.

Conspicuous by his absence at the inauguration was former deputy premier and LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing and supporters of the former governing coalition. Dr Mosisili also did not make a speech as usually expected of an outgoing premier.

The former governing coalition consisted of the DC, LCD, Popular Front for Democracy, National Independent Party, Basotho Congress Party, Marematlou Freedom Party and Lesotho People’s Congress.

Mr Metsing told the Sunday Express yesterday that the “Congress” parties decided against bringing their supporters to the inauguration to avoid humiliation by supporters of the incoming government.

“We received information earlier that we were going to be humiliated, and indeed the dragging of a coffin bearing the LCD colours bears testimony to the fact that it was the new government’s intention,” he said.

“The inauguration was turned into an LCD-bashing event, instead of a state function to install the prime minister. That became clear based on what happened with the tractor pulling a mock coffin in front of the international community.

“One wonders what could have happened if the LCD supporters had attended the inauguration.”

But for his part, Mr Metsing stressed he would have attended the inauguration ceremony were it not for a family emergency.

“I had a sick relative whom I needed to attend to in my home village of Mahobong. I had taken my relative to a health centre for medical treatment.

“I would have loved to attend the function, had it not been for my sick relative,” he added.

DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, echoed Mr Metsing’s sentiments, saying they had agreed that their followers should not attend the ceremony “considering the misbehaviour of the ABC supporters”.

“The ABC supporters are not well behaved,” he charged.

“I can only wonder what was contained in that coffin.

“But, I can assure you that it won’t be long before this current government collapses considering the uncouth behaviour of the ABC supporters.

“I say this because I know it won’t be easy for their coalition partners to tolerate such behaviour taking into account that they come from the congress movement — which has a totally different culture to that of the ABC supporters.”

Similarly, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane, who attended the inauguration, had no kind words for supporters of the new government whom he described as “disgraceful”.

Advocate Rakuoane’s ire was mainly directed at ABC supporters for the mock coffin and the booing of Bishop Taaso.

The cleric was booed off the podium during the inauguration by the supporters who accused him of supporting the previous government.

“This is a bad way to start governance,” he said.

“Those ABC people have done something shameful in front of the international community and even in front of the public at large.

“Unless Ntate Thabane addresses this issue from the onset, I can see the beginning of bad governance. It was so embarrassing.

“How can people drag that thing (coffin) in front of the public with a tractor, something that we use for farming? It was really uncalled for.

“It is a very fanatical manner to operate. It means whatever they will do from now will be done in a fanatical manner.

“It should be recalled that they have always been saying they were being threatened. The question is, where are those people that were threatening them as they were doing such shameful things?” he queried.

“This conduct does not reflect well on them.”

However, ABC spokesperson Tefo Mapesela told this paper there was nothing wrong with the mock coffin bearing LCD colours.

He said was it was a symbolic gesture of showing “the political demise of the DC after it was swallowed by the LCD”.

Ahead of the elections, the DC and LCD forged an electoral agreement meant to avoid vote splitting, which also included the PFD.

Under the agreement, the DC contested in 54 constituencies while the LCD was allocated 25 in the National Assembly elections.

The parties also voted for PFD leader, Lekhetho Rakuoane, in his Qalo stronghold in Butha-Buthe. However, the DC only notched 30 seats, LCD 11 and PFD three.

“It (mock coffin) was just a symbol indicating that the DC’s political popularity ended when it allowed itself to be swallowed by the LCD. It was a symbol that the DC’s popularity was buried in the political coffin of the LCD,” Mr Mapesela said.

“In any case, they cannot dictate to our supporters how they should celebrate.

“It is false that what our supporters did was an embarrassment in front of the international community. It was just a way of celebrating our victory.”

He added: “However, I don’t blame those people who were in power in the last regime because they are ashamed because they failed to retain power.

“The fact that the former prime minister (Dr Mosisili) did not even deliver a speech bears testimony to the fact that they were really embarrassed by the fact that they lost power.”

Contacted for comment, Lesotho Council of Nongovernmental Organisations (LCN) Director Seabata Motsamai said there was a need for a new approach to holding state events such as inaugurations since successive governments had used them for partisan purposes.

“What happened at the inauguration is not unique to the new government because even the former governing parties also showed off when they assumed power in 2015,” he said.

“In the past, the DC humiliated the ABC for losing power and now it is the opposite.

“What is now needed is a new approach to holding such ceremonies to ensure they are truly state and not party events. We continue to make the same procedural mistakes from as far back as 1993 on the procedures for handing over power.”

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