Parallels between 1998, 2014 election talks

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Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane

WHEN I started making these observations some two years ago, I could hardly surmise we would be sniffing another knee-jerk general election in the air as this piece goes to print, according to a public admission by the prime minister.

What surprised me was that even as the landmark 2014 events were unfolding, the opposition was enjoying the upper hand and steamrollering government and dragging the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in its wake, towards the ends of its liking, at the timing and pace of its liking.

These included the autumn abortive no-confidence vote in parliament, the June prorogation of parliament following a secret government-forming pact between the then main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) and the co-ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and the DC/LCD campaign to stop Lesotho from chairing the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation (OPDS), citing volatility of home security; subsequent enforced lifting of the prorogation and calling of snap elections.

I had observed as early as December 2012 on my radio show that the DC was the “only party that is seriously politicking”, and quizzed the ruling alliance to ponder what its fate would be in the circumstances.  We next saw the fanfare amassment of a battalion of personal guard by the army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli, driving fearsomely and aggressively bulldozing public traffic on capital city’s roads from late 2013, the January 2014 suspension and court-martialing of a Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao for reprimanding a treasonable Captain Tefo Hashatsi who rallied Special Forces to prepare to die for the commander if government (Prime Minister) moved to remove him, and the 30 August 2014 army siege of the prime minister’s residence and police stations, when he replaced him with Mahao.  Here the LCD leader, his handler the DC leader, their venom-puffing apparatchiks and virulent pro-opposition Maseru radio stations derided public outcry against the army’s intractability necessitating stern state action; instead cheering the army’s “resistance” of the prime minister’s political interference in the security forces, and ended up publicly declaring army commander the last thread by which our democracy and constitution was hanging, threatening bloodbath if he was removed.

No serious government co-exists with such purveyors of treason without locking them up. If it doesn’t, it flushes, which was our fate in 2014.  When the commander told his June 2014 media conference that he would leave office at his pleasure, on retirement; went on to scorn the prime minister as bending to nonsensical advices of those around him, and threatened his party youth section for calling themselves Under the Tree Army (UTTA) and wearing army camouflage replicas bought from retail shops globally – this alliance said prime minister was swimming in his own political stew. When he ensconced himself in office for 156 days after being dismissed, his deputy, publicly praised as his all-time proxy by the current prime minister, defied the prime minister’s instruction to withdraw military guard from then LCD minister Selibe Mochoboroane who defied his own dismissal; to a flourish of activists’ applause of radio stations, calling this the prime minister’s political fumbling.

This was strengthened by South Africa’s snubbing of the prime minister’s request for military assistance on the eve of Kamoli’s dismissal, in anticipation of his coup-staging manoeuvres of August 29. Curiously, when Ramaphosa was appointed to shepherd the Lesotho situation thereafter, he was named “Facilitator” of a predetermined outcome, and not a mediator (“monamoli”), though local media and officialdom call him that in Sesotho. The “region” had determined that Kamoli’s dismissal and Mahao’s appointment should be either revoked or deferred, while snap elections were held. These determinations were christened Maseru Security Accord and Maseru Facilitation Declaration respectively. Ramaphosa intermittently jetted in and out of Maseru, mouthing inaudible statements to the media, while the train stayed on this course, and nothing else seemed to matter.

I have always marveled at the psychological supremacy or dominance of current incumbents over their rivals, whether in power or not; and this is what you see happening today, notwithstanding contrary pretensions of current opposition. In 2014 they labeled a security problem as a political one. They declared it untouchable until it cost us the life of Lt-Gen Mahao, a full 10 months after the murder of Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko.

In 1998 they prevailed over the Setlamo Democratic Alliance protests challenging elections results with the 1998 South African military “intervention”, which occupied Lesotho for roughly two years. Some of today’s LDF killers of their own (former) commander and civilians, and bombers of private homes shamefully had their proverbial tails between legs as they were paraded in shame by a Boer commander apartheid-style, where a black soldier even shot his Baas commander at Ratjomose barracks!  Presuming upon this assistance, they didn’t table the Langa Commission report on elections, nor did SADC pretend to have considered and / or endorsed and handed it over.

In contrast with the 2014 position, in 1998 they had imposed an understanding that the government was faced with a law and order problem which was its sole preserve to resolve; and not a national political challenge requiring convergence of the entire political spectrum for resolution. They disregarded constitutional supremacy, which is superior even to parliamentary supremacy, to vilify 2014 parliament prorogation to head off a no-confidence vote. This state sovereignty, enabling it to persecute political rivals, was later invoked to block the release and implementation of the Phumaphi Commission report in 2016. Despite adoption of a reformist, reconciliatory tag, now executive  sovereignty has been invoked to eliminate key judicial, civil and military appointments in the cases of Justice Kananelo Mosito, the Principal Secretaries and ambassadors, and Lt.-Gen. Mahao (even by death); having earlier “defended” these posts against state “encroachment” as persecuted “Basotho children” in the 2012/15 government. And they prevail.

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