Mahao calls for grand coalition

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Billy Ntaote

National University of Lesotho vice-chancellor Nqosa Mahao says Saturday’s parliamentary elections failed to achieve their intended purpose of uniting Basotho and only a broad-based coalition government could bring lasting peace to the troubled kingdom.

Speaking during a breakfast meeting for civil society and political party representatives in Maseru yesterday, Professor Mahao said he agreed with suggestions made this week by former

National University of Lesotho vice-chancellor Nqosa Mahao

National University of Lesotho vice-chancellor Nqosa Mahao

Kenya Prime Minister Raila Odinga, when delivering the African Union (AU)’s preliminary statement on the weekend’s snap elections.

In his speech delivered at Lesotho Sun Hotel on Monday, Mr Odinga—who was head of the AU Observer Mission to the elections—said a grand coalition of the biggest parties would unite the people and “heal wounds”, thereby ensuring long-lasting peace in the country.

The Democratic Congress (DC) won 47 of the 120 seats up for grabs in the poll, while the All Basotho Convention (ABC) had 46, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) 12 and Basotho National Party (BNP) seven.  However, the DC, LCD, Lesotho People’s Congress (one seat), Basotho Congress Party (one seat), Popular Front for Democracy (two seats), National Independent Party (one seat) and Marematlou Freedom Party (one seat) have since announced an alliance, automatically making them the new government because their combined seats breach the minimum threshold of 61 they need to rule.

However, Professor Mahao believes the exclusion of the ABC might present problems for the new government.

“A grand coalition was going to be best way to go for Lesotho, especially if you look at the number of constituencies won by the country’s two biggest parties, namely the ABC and DC.

“With the two in government, you would have consensus on institutional and constitutional reforms as they would be built around inclusivity and focus on national healing,” said Professor Mahao.

“This grand coalition would enable our society to walk out of this crisis we find ourselves in otherwise within a very short period of time, we are going to be in a difficult situation once again. This is because the technical majority of 51 percent would be in government and impose its own script on the people.”

Professor Mahao further argued the 28 February vote was supposed to be a “referendum” because it appeared “the whole architecture of governance over the last six months had collapsed and it was not clear who was in power”.

He continued: “In a sense, we could say we were very close to a dysfunctional state as reflected by chaotic governance or collapse of governance.

“So our international partners, particularly SADC (Southern African development Community), took a decision that in order to resolve this issue, let the nation have elections.

“However, we have had the elections and my verdict is they have failed to resolve our problems because the results clearly show that no single party was given the mandate to rule Lesotho.

“If anything, these results reflect very deep divisions across the nation because if you look at the two major political players, the DC and ABC, you will see that the electorate was cut right in the middle.

“And so if the idea was that the elections were going to put the mandate to rule on one person, then they virtually failed.

“Ordinarily, technical mandates are OKAY where you have a normal situation. For instance, in the 2012 general elections, the situation was normal, but the current one is not, so it cannot be addressed by a technical mandate.”

According to Professor Mahao, Lesotho’s security crisis which contributed to the fall of the ABC, LCD and BNP government prompting an election two years ahead of schedule, could also have been addressed through a grand coalition.  A Lesotho Defence Force raid on three police stations in Maseru on 30 August 2014, resulted in the death of one senior policeman and injury to scores of others.

“It is common cause some people were killed by this situation. The question is how can a technical mandate address that situation as it does not matter which of the two camps comes to power.

“The question is how is it going to address those issues of people who were victims in this situation? Secondly, how would it address the situation of those people who were on the wrong side of the law?

“Is there going to be an amnesty and if so, what would be the terms of this pardon? And there are (high-profile) corruption cases pending before the courts. What is going to happen to them?” the professor asked.

The NUL vice-chancellor added it was clear with a technical mandate, such issues would be addressed based on the “standing of the writer of the script”.

Professor Mahao further said another major issue the elections should have tackled was the politicisation of the public service, which he insisted would continue to undermine service-delivery.

“You will remember that there were people who were portrayed as victims of the coalition government in the public service. There were also claims that there were attempts to capture the state through civil servants. Where you have people who do not have a clear mandate but just a simple majority writing the script, how are we going to deal with those issues?”

The other reason why a grand coalition would have been ideal for Lesotho was constitutional and institutional reforms, Professor Mahao said.

“Now the interesting thing is some of those issues that need to be constitutionalised require a much bigger consensus by the public and parliament.

“For instance, there are issues such as parliament’s prorogation which, according to the constitution, cannot be amended unless you refer them to a referendum.

“The constitution says you may only avoid a referendum if you win  two-thirds majority for the amendment in parliament.

“Now the likelihood that any of this patched mandate comprising many parties would attain a two-thirds majority seems to be a little bit of wishful thinking,” he said.

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