Explosive start to peace talks

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. . . as LCD delegates refuse to back down over demands to end prorogation of parliament 

Billy Ntaote

The coalition government began its latest round of peace-talks on a bitter note this week after the three ruling parties — the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD — could not agree on a number of issues, top among the current nine-month suspension of parliament.

Members of the parties’ National Executive Committees (NECs) met at State House on Monday to discuss their proposed amendments to the original Coalition Agreement (CA), on which the coalition government was founded after the May 26, 2012 general election had resulted in a hung parliament.

Monday’s meeting also sought to discuss, for the first time, a report prepared by New Zealand Member of Parliament (MP) Rajen Prasad, which he submitted last week and details how the three parties could improve their working relationship.

However, according to sources who attended the meeting, the ABC and BNP delegates reacted angrily to the LCD’s suggestion that parliament should re-open in September and not 27 February 2015 when the prorogation is supposed to end, as imposed by ABC leader, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
“As you might be aware, this was the first meeting between the three parties’ NECs since a delegation of our politicians, senior public servants and civil society representatives went on a study tour of New Zealand (from 28 June to 5 July).
“That tour was very crucial in that its findings on how New Zealand has managed to have such successful coalition governments, are supposed to be included in a new, revised Coalition Agreement, after it emerged the original one had a number of weaknesses.
“But as we discussed the proposed amendments from the different parties, the major sticking point was the LCD’s insistence that parliament had to be opened in September, which is the time it traditionally re-opens after the winter break, as part of mending the rift that nearly saw government collapsing last month,” said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, according to another source, both the ABC and BNP delegates argued parliament’s suspension was not the reason why the three parties fell-out in the first place, but the LCD’s decision to form an alliance with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC). The LCD signed an agreement with the DC on 11 June — one day after Dr Thabane requested King Letsie III to prorogue parliament — to protest the premier’s alleged failure to consult his fellow leaders when making key governance decisions, among them the suspension of parliament.
The source added: “The ABC and BNP delegates argued that the LCD was skirting the real issue, which was its decision to form an alliance with the enemy.
“And after fierce arguments from both sides, we failed to reach an agreement on the issue, and we expect this to be discussed when our leaders meet on Wednesday (yesterday).”
However, according to the source, the delegates managed to agree on other issues, among them the urgent need to enact a law to regulate or even prohibit floor-crossing in parliament.
“We all agreed that this issue was a time-bomb as it was making the electorate very agitated each time an MP defected to another party, without first informing or consulting the people who voted him or her to power.
“When the meeting ended, you could see that we were not singing the same tune, particularly the LCD, which was very strong on its demands and indicated it would not budge on its demand to re-open parliament in September.
“The party’s argument was that there can be no democracy and good governance without parliament playing its oversight role of ensuring the executive accounted for its actions, hence its demand that the prorogation should end in September.
“What happens now is the NECs are going to meet their respective leaders on Wednesday (yesterday) to discuss what transpired during Monday’s meeting.
“The party leaders are then expected to meet on Thursday (today), to take the talks forward and hopefully, come up with a timeline by which these discussions are expected to have been completed,” the source said.
Contacted for comment, the LCD spokesperson, Selibe Mochoboroane said: “It’s true the three parties’ NECs met on Monday, and on our part, we are yet to brief our leader (Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing) about the meeting.
“We are only meeting him on Wednesday to discuss yesterday’s proceedings. That is all I can tell you at the moment because I am not at liberty to reveal anything more before Wednesday’s briefing.”
The BNP spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, also said he could not give details about Monday’s meeting.
“We are still in talks, which are running smoothly, as far as we are concerned as the BNP,” he said.
”That is all I can say at the moment regarding the meeting.”
Numerous attempts to get hold of the ABC delegates were fruitless as they were said to be in endless meetings.

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