CIVIL society organisations (CSOs) under the umbrella of the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (LCN) have condemned the bypassing of the Council of State in the dissolution of parliament, saying it “could set a bad precedent”.
However, the CSOs have also commended the outgoing seven-party coalition government for the “mature and responsible gesture” of allowing the no-confidence motion to pass.
King Letsie III dissolved parliament after the passing of a no-confidence vote on the Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-led government on 1 March 2017.
Dr Mosisili was toppled by a coalition consisting of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho after garnering the support of up to 74 MPs in the 120-member National Assembly, which just requires 61 seats to form government.
The opposition wanted to form government immediately after succeeding in the no-confidence vote, but Dr Mosisili advised His Majesty to dissolve parliament to facilitate the call for Lesotho’s third general elections in five years.
The opposition bloc had petitioned King Letsie III to reject the government’s advice to dissolve parliament, calling on the monarch to instead endorse their nominee, AD leader Monyane Moleleki, to replace Dr Mosisili as prime minister.
The opposition had also asked the monarch to convene the Council of State, which advises the King on key constitutional functions including calling for elections.
The Council of State consists of Dr Mosisili, National Assembly Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai, High Court Justices ’Maseshophe Hlajoane and Lisebo Chaka–Makhooane, Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe, Lesotho Defence Force commander Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo, Commissioner of Police Molahlehi Letsoepa, Law Society President Attorney Tumisang Mosotho, Principal Chief Mathealira Seeiso, ABC leader Thomas Thabane and BNP leader Thesele ’Maseribane.
However, King Letsie III went on to dissolve parliament without convening the council citing the need to foster “national unity and to avoid possible constitutional crisis” much to the opposition’s chagrin.
Dr Thabane had then warned that His Majesty risked sullying his good image among Basotho by being “ensnared” by politicians in failing to convene the Council of State.
Having initially vowed to challenge the dissolution in the courts of law, the opposition alliance later opted against the strategy, saying they wanted to protect “the sanctity of the office of the King”.
Their new plan was to threaten criminal prosecution against public servants who used public funds to facilitate the holding of elections without parliamentary approval. They argued that the 2016/2017 national budget had not made provisions for general elections hence it was illegal for the government to make an advance expenditure for the polls.
King Letsie III has since proclaimed 3 June 2017 as the date for the snap polls.
Addressing a press conference to pronounce its position on the developments in Maseru this week, LCN Commissioner Lemohang Molibeli commended the government for allowing the no-confidence motion to pass.
“The vote of no confidence successfully passed on government was in itself parliamentary, democratic and constitutional,” he said.
“The fact that the motion eventually went through to be presented, debated and concluded in parliament was a very bold, mature and responsible gesture of those for the time being endowed with responsibility to serve in the positions of power. This is highly commendable because it enhanced appreciation of democracy and constitutionality.”
The LCN also acknowledged Dr Mosisili’s constitutional right to either resign or advise the King to dissolve parliament. However, Mr Molibeli said they were concerned about the “subsequent events leading to the dissolution of parliament”.
“It is noted with great concern that despite expression of its desire to offer counsel to the King, the Council of State was not allowed. To deny the State Council its constitutional right to advice the King in the dissolution of Parliament is against the constitution and it is hereby condemned,” he said.
“The CSOs are aware that the bypassing of the State Council to tender its counsel to the King in the dissolution of Parliament could set a bad precedent.”
Mr Molibeli said they were also concerned with the “verbal attacks” on King Letsie over his decision to dissolve parliament without convening the Council of State.
“We urge our politicians to desist from making unjustified public utterances on the institution they know for sure would not reply. This can only divide Basotho and cause rift between and among political inclinations in this society,” he said.
While acknowledging the constitutionality of the holding of the snap polls, the CSOs noted that they would have preferred reforms first to ensure lasting political stability.
“Basotho would recall that civil society has recommended prioritisation of reforms over elections. Despite the advice political leadership chose elections in 2014 and the 2015 elections have not resolved the problems.
“Two years down the line, the country is heading for other elections. This situation can only confirm the civil society call for reforms. The Commission calls upon Basotho to impress upon political leadership to commit to an arrangement now, which would prioritise reforms over any legislative programme after elections. The Commission reiterates the position of civil society that reforms should be inclusive and participatory.”
The LCN also touched on the contentious funding of the elections, urging the government to find legal means to finance “this important work”.
“Given the public uncertainty on this matter the Commission calls upon government to make statement that assures the nation of availability of such funds and legal means through which it would be accessed. This is critical not only for dispelling allegations that it might be difficult to constitutionally finance elections now that budget has not been passed but also for much needed public assurance.”