SIR Ketumile Masire, the envoy appointed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate Lesotho’s dispute over the allocation of parliamentary seats, has abruptly abandoned the mission.
Masire cited a breakdown of dialogue with Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government for walking out on Lesotho.
The mediation efforts had come about after opposition parties accused the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of wrongly allocating 21 of the 120 seats in parliament to the alliance led by the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy.
Attacks on ministers’ houses in 2007 were linked to the electoral dispute.
We had all hoped that Masire’s mission would not only resolve the dispute but also come up with recommendations for electoral reforms, if necessary.
But the government said the dispute was settled last year after the High Court dismissed a case filed by one of the opposition parties.
Masire did not hide his disappointment at the turn of events.
And to his credit, Masire managed to avoid the regrettable habit of SADC envoys of siding with governments of the day.
The former Botswana president laid the blame squarely on the government of Lesotho for failing to negotiate in good faith and deliberately frustrating his efforts by shifting goalposts.
“Accordingly, although I have not concluded the mission assigned to me by SADC, I do not feel able to continue on account of the approach to the matter taken by the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho,” Masire said.
This is a serious indictment of our government’s democratic posturing.
Here is a government that agrees to dialogue but does not have the political will to follow it through to its logical end.
The implications of such actions can be quite serious as Masire warned in his statement.
“The practice of the IEC ought to be changed to ensure that the foregoing does not occur at the next elections to be held in the kingdom,” he said.
“If it should not, the same difficulties that resulted from the last elections will again occur, with possibly unfortunate consequences for the country.”
We could not agree more.
Any government with the interests of its people at heart should take the warning seriously.
It is important to note here that the government is not saying the dispute has been resolved.
Rather the government is burying its head in the sand and hoping the contentious issue will just vanish into thin air.
As much as we should all abide by court rulings, a decision by a court cannot bring finality to a political problem.
A political problem can only be fixed by a political solution.
If not resolved, we have no doubt this problem will come back to haunt us in the next elections.
The government can be as belligerent as it wants but the fact remains it has a crisis on its hands.
The crisis might not have led to chaos this time but there is no guarantee that it will not have disastrous consequences in future.
And when that happens it will be too late for a solution.
By closing the dialogue prematurely the government is sowing seeds of discontent.
In fact these seeds are already germinating.
You only need to listen to All Basotho Congress leader Thomas Thabane speaking at rallies to know how short-changed he feels about those seats.
Other opposition parties are bitter as well.
It should be noted that the dispute has never been about new elections.
The 2007 elections were, according to observers, free and fair.
No one is demanding new elections on the basis of the alleged irregularities.
It’s a legitimate query on the method used to allocate seats.
Masire, a neutral mediator, says the allocation was faulty.
Why then should the government insist on doing the wrong thing over and over again when there is a chance to right the wrongs for the better of the people?