Talks begin

2

… as pressure mounts on government, opposition

MASERU — The government has agreed to engage the opposition in talks as pressure mounts on them to resolve the dispute over proportional representation (PR) seats.

The first round of the talks organised by the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) started yesterday at 9am at United Nations House.

The meeting, chaired by retired Anglican Church Bishop, Philip Mokuku (pictured), was part of the CCL’s efforts to mend the rift between the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) government and the opposition over the allocation of the PR seats.

The media was barred from the three-hour-long meeting that was attended by representatives from government, the opposition, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and church leaders.

It was convened a day after the opposition called off an indefinite stayaway saying they wanted to give dialogue a chance and the IEC time to deal with the matter.

The government was represented by Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla who was leading a delegation of four ministers and one MP.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC) party was represented by the party deputy chairperson, Clement Machakela.

Other opposition leaders present were Sello Maphalla of the Lesotho Workers’ Party, Vincent Malebo of the Marematlou Freedom Party and Kelebone Maope, the leader of the Lesotho People’s Congress.

Basotho Congress Party leader Thulo Mahlakeng, and his Basotho National Party counterpart Metsing Lekhanya also attended the meeting.

The official communiqué released by the CCL last night said the parties had agreed on the agenda and who will be chairing the talks.It said the parties have also agreed on the people that will be representing the stakeholders.

Sources however told the Lesotho Times last night that the parties had agreed that no one would comment to the media after the meeting.

But although the communiqué gives the impression that the meeting was all smooth sailing sources said there were indications that the chasm between the opposition and government was still huge.

For instance, sources said, the government seems to be still insisting that it will not give in on the allocation of the seats.

“The Deputy Prime Minister stood up and said the courts had made a ruling on the issue of PR seats and so the government was not prepared to discuss it.”

“He was not mincing words on that and it is clear that the government will remain unmovable as regards the issue of seats,” the source said.

“They still firmly believe that the court’s decision was final. It is actually shocking that they agreed to come to the talks when they still insist that there is no going back on that issue.”

It is this issue that other political parties fear will break the parties again.

The source said the issue was eventually included on the agenda after much debate between the parties.

He said the issue of IEC’s involvement will be discussed on Wednesday.

“It was agreed that the IEC is a player in the issue. No one protested to that fact.”

The commission was represented by Malefetsane Nkhahle.

The IEC has come under immense pressure over the past two weeks to deal with the dispute.

Last Wednesday some opposition members handed a letter to the commission urging it to deal with the matter urgently.

On Monday, the leader of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Lekhetho Rakuoane, wrote to the IEC requesting it to seek a declaratory order on the constitutionality of the electoral law.

Rakuoane, who is a lawyer by profession, said the IEC should apply to the court for re-allocation of seats “if it is in the interest of fair elections.”

“It is no doubt convenient at this stage to observe that the Independent Electoral Commission would not be in a position to decide on the issue of this magnitude by itself nor could it sweep them under the carpet and pretend that they are not there,” Rakuoane said.

“It is our submission that the IEC had to seek a declaratory order on the constitutionality of the above-mentioned electoral law provision which have prevented it from giving effect to the constitutional directive.”

“Any election results which are not in conformity with the constitutional principle of mixed member proportional are not fair and just.”

The LWP leader, Macaefa Billy told the Lesotho Times in an interview yesterday that they were not going to let up in their fight for the re-allocation of PR seats.

Billy said the ABC/LWP alliance leadership did not have any problem with the court declaring them as one entity, a move which could have LWP seats withdrawn and re-allocated.

“We are aware that the IEC has erred in the allocation of seats and we want the error to be corrected,” Billy said.

“We are not going to allow anybody to shift us from our stance on the seats issue,” he said.

“The allocation was unconstitutional.”

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