AS opposed to a rebellion, a coup is never a spontaneous development. It takes time and plotting to put the pieces together. The important thing to note however is that all coups are a result of agitation often outside the barracks. The calculations whether the environment exists for a coup; and, the probability of success of staging such a coup are then made by those who have weapons of war. It is under these circumstances that recent statements by the outgoing Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, on the military and alleged fraud in the June 2017 elections in Lesotho, have to be understood. They are tantamount to incitement to stage either a rebellion or a coup.
For Lesotho, the spectre of coups has been with us for a long time. The only successful coups in Lesotho have however been staged before our modern constitution that came into effect in 1993. Since then, we have been faced with numerous military rebellions and unsuccessful coups. The last unsuccessful coup in Lesotho was staged in August 2014. Its repercussions continue to reverberate up to the present since it was never suppressed. On the contrary, it was embraced as a legitimate action by the government which took office in 2015. Mr Metsing was the deputy prime minister in that regime which was essentially a mask for military rule. The civilian authorities were then mere cover for the real wielders of power. It is therefore not surprising to hear Mr Metsing portraying himself and those around him as the great protectors of the military against the imminent coming to power of Tom Thabane as the new prime minister.
It is important to elucidate and analyse three things which Mr Metsing desires. First, he wants to prevent Dr Thabane from taking over power in order to protect the soldiers, who in his words “…put their necks on the block so that we ended up taking power.”
Secondly, Mr Metsing alleges that there has been massive voter fraud and requests the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to institute a forensic audit of the voters roll. Thirdly Mr Metsing and his cohorts demand that a government of national unity (GNU) be formed. Strange as it sounds, it is Mr Metsing who ridiculed the idea of a GNU in 2015 after the elections. Where do these statements lead us in the post- elections period in Lesotho?
Metsing on the ‘army’ issue
In places where you have the army as a state institution rather than a privatised army, citizens of all political stripes should have the confidence that such a body serves the broader national interests rather than partisan ones. It would therefore be unheard of for politicians to portray themselves as the protectors of such a military establishment. In Lesotho, we have had the experience of some politicians who tend to wrap themselves up with the army. When they fail to get support to either stay in power or to get to power, they suddenly become the great protectors of the army against their opponents.
Mr Metsing has a reputation for doing just that. From 2014 when he had his difficulties with the law about corruption allegations, he suddenly was surrounded by over a dozen heavily-armed soldiers wherever he was. This continued until he boldly declared on “national television” that Tlali Kamoli, who had been dismissed as Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander would remain in his position regardless. He incited continued rebellion within the military.
After the outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-led coalition took over in 2015, Mr Metsing was primarily the person who frustrated the implementation of the SADC decisions after the adoption of the Phumaphi Commission Report. He talked reform in order to stop reform. His cohorts in the military were protected from the courts for cases which ranged from high treason to murder spelled out in the Phumaphi Commission Report. It was a case of one turn deserves another since the military had protected him from answering for his difficulties in court. It is understandable now that he would like those to continue being shielded from the courts.
Talking to his supporters shortly after the elections, Mr Metsing began to openly argue that all means must be found to stop Dr Thabane from taking over power from his coalition. That was a futile attempt since Mr Metsing and his allies could not muster the numbers to stop Dr Thabane from ascending to power. He argued that the army needed to be protected for their role in bringing about the out-going coalition government.
“Let me tell you that it is because of members of the country’s army who put their necks on the block that we ended up taking power, and if today Thabane attains power, it is clear that some of them would be in danger.
“There are some people whose future should be protected by us, regardless of our individual aspirations. This is our obligation and I am surprised that some LCD members don’t want us to approach (Selibe) Mochoboroane while on the other hand some DC followers do not want (Monyane) Moleleki to be approached.
For Mr Metsing, the issues are clear; it is either Dr Thabane is stopped from gaining power after he won the elections, or the army, which can now be clear that he has turned it into a militia will face danger. It is not that Mr Metsing’s fears are baseless. All the political parties undertook to implement the SADC decisions which include the suspension of those of his allies who have committed serious crimes pending further investigations. The point is that his statements are tantamount to incitement to the militia to stage a coup. It is unheard of that an outgoing deputy prime minister can incite the army against the incoming government. This is more so now as a result of the rapid promotions of those implicated in serious crimes into the Command positions within the military. They could be expected to use their positions to undertake actions against the incoming government.
The question of paying tribute to the military for facilitating the coming to office of the outgoing coalition government is not new. Dr Mosisili pronounced himself on that shortly after he had taken office. What is new is that Mr Metsing is now talking about the protection of those who put their necks on the block to ensure that the outgoing government took power. It is a clear indication that his cohorts in the military which has become a militia should resist the new government.
On rigging the elections
Almost a week after the elections which the Dr Mosisili coalition spectacularly lost, Mr Metsing, supported by a motley of politicians held a press conference last Friday to declare that there was tangible evidence of fraud in the elections. “…there is damning and tangible evidence that there were fraudulent activities and tampering of the voters’ roll…
“Some people voted twice and even thrice because their names appeared more than once in different lists. All these fraudulent activities were in contravention of the electoral law.
“In our view, elections are a pillar of democracy. And in a situation where there is fraud in the electoral lists, there is simply no way the results would reflect the will of the people or be democratic.”
Not only did Mr Metsing make his outlandish statement about the elections which were monitored by well over 700 observers from Lesotho and all over the world, but his demands for a forensic audit must be fulfilled before the end of June 2017. We have to say that all the observers from SADC, African Union (AU), SADC Parliamentary Forum and the Commonwealth to mention only a few, gave the elections a clean bill of health. The only reservations by all the above was the undefined role of the army which turned up heavily armed in some polling stations without the knowledge and concurrence of the Independent Electoral Commission which complained that they could scare off voters.
The question of fraud in Lesotho elections is a red herring. The level of transparency of the voting process is way beyond what is found in most electoral processes. Indeed, all political parties participate from the beginning of the process until they all sign the outcome as a sign of concurrence with the process and the outcome. Those who are unhappy about the process and the outcome don’t sign the form announcing the results. Moreover, they have ample opportunity to file a complaint at the voting station. Beyond that, they can always petition the High Court about their grievance. Mr Metsing and the rest of the losing crew have not filed any complaint or filed a petition with the High Court. All what they are doing is to stir up the pot in order to prepare for a coup.
The challenge for Mr Metsing is that he lost the elections badly. In spite of being borrowed votes in 25 constituencies by a bigger political party, the Democratic Congress (DC), Mr Metsing’s party only managed to win only one constituency. Through the borrowed votes, he now has 11 seats from the proportional allocation, in the National Assembly of 120 seats. His pronouncement about fraud is merely a way of trying to deflect attention from his ever diminishing support base. He now wants to cling to power through unorthodox means.
On the proposed GNU
Shortly after the elections of 2015, the former Prime Minister of Kenya Odinga Odinga, heading the AU Observer Mission in Lesotho, proposed that the inconclusive nature of the elections in Lesotho at the time called for the formation of a GNU. For him, the issue was one of ensuring that the two biggest parties shared power in order to stabilise the country. Mr Metsing was the first person to dismiss that, since he would have been relegated to become a minor partner. He also rejected that when the matter was raised a few weeks before the vote of no confidence in Dr Mosisili was brought up. He knew at the time that his position as deputy prime minister would elude him. But now that he has lost the elections and is fearful that his past will catch up with him when he is not in government, he vigorously advocates for the GNU. For Mr Metsing, this is for him as an individual and not the issue of stability of the country as he claims.
There is nothing wrong with the GNU as such, but in our region, it has been used as a weapon for those who have lost elections to be in power. We saw that in Kenya and also in Zimbabwe. The strategy is to inflict as much violence on the populace as possible so that people will concede that it is better to allow the loser to rule than to allow people to be brutalised is an abhorrent thing to tolerate. There would be no reason to have elections if losers can force their way through violence to be in power.
The critical question for Mr Metsing and that motley of politicians with him is that losers cannot dictate terms. The question of a GNU is one that can be pioneered by the winners who want to be inclusive. What Mr Metsing and others should hope for is that the winners are magnanimous after their resounding victory. For Mr Metsing and his allies, theirs is to lie low and begin to prepare for the elections five years down the line rather than stir the pot or make unrealistic demands to the victors.
Lesotho has gone through elections which reflect the will of the people. They were not fair, but the opposition stood its ground to show that it was not a fluke to pass a vote of no confidence in parliament against Dr Mosisili. They represented the majority of the electorate. Dr Mosisili, to his credit, has steered clear of public statements which would indicate that he has not accepted his defeat. Mr Metsing, on the other hand, wants to fight on and hopefully end up annulling the unfavourable vote he got.
The army as opposed to the militia has nothing to fear from the new government. But the militia should know that the rule of law and accountability are the only future for Lesotho. Those who have committed crimes should know that the world expects them to answer for themselves in the court of law. That is not vindictiveness, but the rule of law.
The problem with this Yahya Jammeh-like attitude by Mr Metsing of accepting defeat and then trying to resist to leave office is that it is not sustainable. If Mr Metsing and his allies have not noticed, they are being intensely monitored and cannot sustain a coup. The world has changed and they’d better realise that the days of coups has long past.
There will be calm in the Kingdom despite the rubble rousing by Mr Metsing and his co-conspirators!
We heartily congratulate the winners of the Lesotho elections.