OPPOSITION political parties’ demands for a multi-stakeholder national dialogue have been dashed after Southern African Development Community (SADC) facilitator, Cyril Ramaphosa, approved the deferment of the indaba until after the elections in line with the Lesotho government’s argument of time constraints to convene the gathering before next month’s polls.
Lesotho will hold its third elections in five years on 3 June 2017 after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost a no confidence vote and subsequently dissolved Parliament.
Four parties namely the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) last month demanded the multi- stakeholder national dialogue as mandated by the SADC extra-ordinary summit for heads of state and government held on 18 March 2017 in Swaziland.
The stated aim of the national dialogue was to build consensus and trust among all stakeholders and chart the way forward regarding the implementation of SADC recommended reforms.
The parties made the demand during their meetings with the SADC Electoral Advisory Council (SEAC) and Commonwealth Secretary-General (SG) Patricia Scotland in Maseru last month.
They said the dialogue should be held before the elections, citing a resumption of “pre-exile intimidation tactics” by Dr Mosisili’s government and the “increasing” role of the army in the polls preparations, among other concerns.
In addition to closely monitoring the political situation in Lesotho, the summit mandated Mr Ramaphosa and the SADC Oversight Committee to hold a multi-stakeholder national dialogue ahead of the 3 June 2017 elections.
The stated aim of the national dialogue was to build consensus and trust among all stakeholders and chart the way forward for the implementation of SADC decisions.
However, during his official visit to Maseru this week Mr Ramaphosa, who is also the South African Deputy President, agreed with Prime Minister Mosisili that the multi-stakeholder national dialogue can only be held after elections “given the limited time period before elections”.
Mr Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Ronnie Mamoepa, yesterday told the Lesotho Times yesterday that the facilitator had met all stakeholders “and it has been agreed that the multi-stakeholder dialogue can only be held after the elections, given the limited time period before the elections”.
In his Tuesday programme, Mr Ramaphosa held closed meetings with King Letsie III, Dr Mosisili, opposition leaders, the Christian Council of Lesotho and the civil society organisations.
Mr Mamoepa said “all parties agreed” that the multi-stakeholder national dialogue should be deferred.
For his part, the Prime Minister’s Press Attaché, Motumi Ralejoe said Mr Ramaphosa held a “successful meeting” with Dr Mosisili, “and among other issues I understand it was agreed the multi-stakeholder dialogue and other pressing issues can be addressed post-elections”.
However, well-placed sources in the opposition told this publication that the decision to postpone the dialogue did not sit well with the opposition leaders.
“It is premature to tell you this, but as the opposition we are not happy with the developments.
“Our stance remains – that the dialogue should be held before elections to ease the tension between the government and the opposition; to come together and allay fears that things like intimidation of opposition activists by security agencies,” one opposition official, who did not want to be named because the opposition was speaking jointly on the matter and he did not have the authority to speak on behalf of the bloc, said.
ABC leader, Thomas Thabane told the Lesotho Times that a joint statement by the four parties was being planned.
ABC Secretary General, Samonyane Ntsekele subsequently said late last night that the opposition had not yet met to compile the statement “due to other pressing matters”.
The deferment comes against a backdrop of spirited government resistance to the proposed indaba after Dr Mosisili addressed a scathing letter to SADC.
Dr Mosisili addressed his damning letter to SADC Chairman, King Mswati III, on 5 April 2017. The premier expressed concern against SADC decisions including the demand for the indaba.
“It is of grave concern that I write this letter to Your Majesty to record Lesotho’s strong reservations with regard to the contents of the above (COMMUNIQUE of the Extra Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government, Kingdom of Swaziland, March 18, 2017) as well as the procedure followed in the adoption of the said communique.”
Dr Mosisili said it was common cause that Lesotho as a sovereign state, “has allowed democracy to prevail and flourish by letting the National Assembly pass a “no confidence motion”, and the subsequent dissolution of parliament in preparation for the general elections scheduled for 3 June, 2017. This is in compliance with the provisions of the Lesotho Constitution and the Electoral Act of 2011.
“In typical fashion, the holding of elections in all SADC states attracts several observer teams, including an observer team from SADC.
“We therefore view with disdain the provisions of paragraph 11 of the said communique which suggests that the ‘Facilitator and the Oversight Committee’ would be charged with the responsibility to ‘mentor the political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho, during the election period,’ thus allowing these two SADC structures to gradually gnaw into the very fabric of our sovereignty. In our humble opinion, the mandate of both structures needs to be reviewed so as to confine them within the purview of agreed parameters.”
The premier raised concerns that Mr Ramaphosa and the Oversight Committee had been charged with “yet another spurious responsibility to conduct a multi-stakeholder national dialogue before the election set for 3 June 2017”.
“With respect, we find this most unrealistic and absurd. How and where on earth would anyone have time for this multi-stakeholder dialogue during the campaign period for elections?
“Need we remind the SADC, through Your Majesty, that Lesotho, like all SADC member states, has devised sufficient guidelines including adopting the SADC principles for holding credible, free and fair elections, and that these guidelines have stood the test of time.”
Dr Mosisili argued that the preparations for the dialogue had been overtaken by the dissolution of parliament “and preoccupation with arrangements for general elections by all stakeholders”.
Consequently, he said, the said multi-stakeholder national dialogue could only take place after the elections.
“While we have no problem with SADC engaging the new government, we are understandably disappointed that no mention whatsoever is made of progress achieved in this regard. But most shocking is the veiled threat of “the consequences” for failure to observe timelines imposed on us.
“It has to be recalled, Your Majesty, that SADC is involved in Lesotho strictly at our request. We would plead therefore that in order to ensure co-operation by all and at all times, the requisite restraint and decorum be maintained.
“We cannot, in good conscience, allow our sovereignty to be sacrificed for whatever reason by a regional body of which we are founding members. It would be a sad day if indeed we were to allow the SADC to degenerate into a body where (its) might reigns supreme. This is not the SADC we founded. This is not the SADC we would be proud to be a part of. This is not the SADC we would like to bequeath unto posterity,” Dr Mosisili wrote.