A frightening prospect

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OPPOSITION parties last week said they will call for an indefinite mass job stay-away starting August 3 to press the government to address the contentious issue of proportional representation (PR) seats.

The proposed stay-away comes in the wake of Sir Ketumile Masire’s dramatic decision a fortnight ago to abandon his mediation mission citing lack of co-operation from the government.

We had hoped that Masire’s mediation would provide a solution to the 2007 election dispute and also provide a clear basis to resolve electoral disputes in future.

In his report an exasperated Masire laid the blame for the breakdown of the dialogue squarely on the shoulders of the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

The government has denied that it sabotaged the dialogue process.

From its responses in the media it is clear that this is a government that has its back against the wall.

The opposition forces appear to have found a new sense of vigour and vitality.

The Masire report has seen a dramatic rise in political temperatures in the country.

The leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, Thomas Thabane, last weekend told his supporters that they will embark on an indefinite stay-away to “straighten out this country”.

That is a frightening statement pregnant with meaning.

Thabane told about 2 000 party supporters that the call for the stay-away was the opposition’s response to the government’s derailing of Masire’s mediation.

The opposition leader said the stay-away was a peaceful and democratic option to press for change.

It is clear from media reports since last week that the opposition feels wronged by the actions of the government. It has accused the government of gross intransigence.

The opposition says it is not satisfied with the manner in which the government threw spanners into Masire’s mediation efforts.

The opposition’s call for a stay-away did not come as a surprise to us. It genuinely believes that it was short-changed. Masire said so.

The opposition also believes that by halting Masire’s mediation the government had acted in bad faith.

Thabane is on record as having said he does recognise the 2007 election result as legitimate.

His only gripe, he says, is the allocation of 21 seats that were given to an alliance led by the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy party.

Thabane says all he wants is for the government to address the PR seats that are at the centre of the dispute.

This sounds quite reasonable. The government must accept that it has a crisis on its hands following the decision by Masire to abandon his mission.

It must find a political solution to break the stalemate.

It would be sheer recklessness on the part of the government to obstinately close all avenues for dialogue with the opposition.Even bitter political foes are able to sit down on the same table for the national good.

There are numerous examples in the region in this regard.

As Masire correctly pointed out it was important to deal with the 2007 election dispute to avoid a recurrence of the matter during future elections.

Leaving the matter unresolved could have ghastly consequences for the country’s nascent democracy.

Besides, closing all avenues for dialogue could radicalise elements within the opposition.

A radicalised opposition could steer the country back into political upheaval. The consequences could be dire.

We are all familiar with the sad history of this country.

We certainly would not want to see Lesotho fall back into chaos and political instability.

Thabane says the August 3 stay-away will be a peaceful protest against the government.

“If there would be any violence it would not be caused by us,” Thabane said.

But as he knows from experience a stay-away can easily degenerate into violent confrontation.

If the stay-away turns violent, both the government and the opposition will have blood on their hands.

Besides, a stay-away will have a devastating impact on the country’s fragile economy.

We are in the middle of an economic recession. Thousands of jobs are on the line.

A stay-away at this juncture could deliver a knock-out punch to the country’s struggling and anaemic economy.

If the stay-away succeeds the cost to business in lost revenue will be massive.

We think it is not too late for the government and the opposition to find common ground for the sake of the country.

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