Thabane urged to embrace opposition

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Lesotho’s creaking democratic foundation can only be reinforced if government works closely with opposition parties, Botswana’s new leader, President Mokgwetsi Masisi said this week. Masisi who touched down in Maseru on the fifth leg of his whirlwind tour of SADC capitals counselled troubled Basotho to end incessant political squabbling that has hobbled national socioeconomic growth.

He told Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to fi nd ways of co-existing with the opposition and value it as a partner in building a firm foundation for a new democratic order. Masisi was in Maseru on Monday for a one-day working visit, which he said was fruitful and “afforded Botswana and Lesotho the opportunity to renew bonds of friendship”. On Wednesday, the Botswana government released a statement suggesting that Thabane acceded to Masisi’s request to support Gaborone Central Member of Parliament (MP), Dr Phenyo Butale in his candidature for the Pan African Parliament (PAP) presidency.

In the statement, Masisi was quoted saying: “I made it a point to them that Dr Butale is from the opposition and we wished them to live like we do with our opposition, which we value as foundation for our democratic dispensation.” Butale was part of President Masisi’s entourage “to Lesotho because the President wanted to introduce him and ask for support for his PAP presidency campaign,” according to the statement.

As Dimpho Motsamai, a Pretoriabased researcher on conflict prevention and risk analysis with the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) would put it, as a multiparty democracy, the effectiveness of the party system in Lesotho’s parliament depends on the relationship between government and the opposition parties. In March 2016, Motsamai said: “The crux is that without the opposition, Lesotho’s government effectively operates like a one-party regime; an image the state should steer away from.”

Masisi’s comments come as Basotho are concerned about the escalation of political crisis if the opposition parties, inside and outside parliament, pull-out of the national reforms programme. The opposition last month threatened to retreat from the reforms processes citing government’s arrogance, a move which observers said reflected opposition political leaders’ intransigence. On April 24, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Double Troika summit held in Angola called “upon all political parties and stakeholders in Lesotho to accord the needed seriousness to the national dialogue and the reforms processes”, and find lasting solutions to the political challenges facing the country.

Barely three months after the June 3, elections which wheeled Thabane to Qobosheaneng – the official seat of the government which also houses the offices of the Prime Minister – opposition accused Thabane of cracking down on political opponents. The situation led to three opposition leaders including former prime minister Mothetjoa Metsing and official leader of opposition Mathibeli Mokhothu, fleeing to South Africa.

Metsing, leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) said he fled Lesotho because he feared for his life after he got a tip-off that he would be assassinated or arrested and killed in custody. He told the media then that: “We pleaded with the SADC (Southern African Development Community) to dispatch the SADC Facilitator to Lesotho (Cyril Ramaphosa) to interrogate our concerns and halt the rampant misbehaviour by government.” He also accused Thabane of turning the country into a police state but the latter hit back describing Metsing as a fugitive from justice.

“He must go to court to prove his innocence. He must come back and answer corruption charges against him,” Thabane said. In an eight-page statement released in September, the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) said the nation had fallen “under the reign of terror, and is fast degenerating into a dark political abyss of fear and consternation”. The DC statement highlighted a list of disturbing events, including “police targeting residents thought to be opposition supporters” and the arrest, alleged torture, and subsequent flight to South Africa of LCD deputy leader MP Tšeliso Mokhosi.

Mokhosi was arrested in August and later charged with the murder of police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng. He was subsequently released on bail.Following his release, and before fleeing to South Africa, he accused police of torturing and forcing him to lie about the killing of Khetheng. His allegations were rubbished by the police and government. Metsing and Mokhosi are still holed-up in South Africa while Mokhothu returned home in March this year.

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