Thu. May 23rd, 2019

‘Polls no panacea for ailing economy’

. . . Metsing differs sharply with Mokhothu

 

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU – Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing, has differed sharply with official leader of opposition in parliament Mathibeli Mokhothu on the timing of elections, ostensibly to steady government.

Mokhothu says his Democratic Congress (DC) wants elections to remove Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s four-party coalition government now, while Metsing contends polls can wait.

Metsing insists Lesotho must implement ongoing reforms as “it would be futile to call elections when our constitution has so many shortcomings” and “where the environment is just not conducive”.

Addressing supporters in Mechechane on Sunday, Metsing said the current flurry of political rallies should not be misconstrued as a precursor to elections, adding “fresh elections now will (not) usher the peace and stability and we need”.

He said there was no need for elections “until the playing field has been levelled by reforms” especially constitutional and parliamentary reforms.

While Metsing did not directly mention Mokhothu, the DC leader has called for elections, arguing Thabane’s government had failed.

The LCD and DC entered into an electoral pact for the June 2017 elections, with the two parties voting for each other in some constituencies, in the hope of uniting the congress parties.

However, the pact proved disastrous as the two parties failed to vote as agreed, in the process helping Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) win 50 constituencies.

Lately, there has been speculation that Mokhothu and Metsing are undermining each other, with sources noting Metsing, who is a former deputy prime minister, was struggling to accept Mokhothu’s newly-elevated position as official leader of opposition in parliament.

Mokhothu was reportedly feverishly trying to assert his status and superiority over Metsing.

This, the sources added, had cascaded down to supporters of the two parties who are now insulting each other on social media.

Metsing on Sunday pleaded with his supporters to stop insulting Mokhothu, adding he hoped that the DC leadership would also reprimand its members.

In an exclusive interview with Public Eye recently, Mokhothu called for elections, arguing coalition governments undermined democracy and were a burden on the public purse due to bloated cabinets.

Mokhothu said coalition governments were fertile grounds for corruption, adding Lesotho should rather spend at least M350 million on a snap election, than prolong the agony of a limping coalition.

The DC leader also pleaded with Basotho to vote for one political party to avoid coalition governments, adding stability provided by a one-party government would translate into investor confidence, economic growth and job creation.

However, Metsing said voting patterns since 2012 have shown that calling elections now would not produce a hung parliament again.

Metsing is adamant only constitutional amendments can cure the country’s intractable political issues.

The LCD leader again maintained that unlike in 1993 when the BCP under the late Dr Ntsu Mokhehle’s leadership won all constituencies and emulated by LCD in 1997, 2002 and 2007 when the party won majority seats, Metsing suggested that “the current political landscape will not allow for that”.

“Going to elections does not help anyone except to bring consternation and chaos in Lesotho. Our suspicion as LCD is that the instability that continues to stalk Lesotho stems from our stance when we were part of the first coalition government, when in 2014 we complained that the country’s constitution did not accommodate coalition governments,” Metsing said.

“Our firm opinion was that we needed to amend the constitution in order to include clauses that stipulated the procedure to be followed in order for the country to have a stable coalition government.

“To date that constitution still has not been amended. That then begs the question to Basotho who say we should go for elections: is there anything on the ground to guarantee Basotho peace and stability for the government that Basotho will elect to power, post whatever elections we might go to?”

Metsing added: “We are into our third coalition government since the formation of the first one in 2012 and there is still no stability in Lesotho.

“If that is the case, what then gives us the guarantee that we will have stability if we go to elections this time around?”

Metsing said while he understood that political parties were entitled to their opinions formed from their assessment on the ground, the LCD rejected the idea of elections as they created consternation, with the campaign being the worst phase as politicians took each other by the horns.

“As different political parties have been holding rallies across the country, there has also been talk about the convening of elections. I want to talk to you about it, share our opinion as the LCD on the call for elections,” Metsing said.

“As the tour of constituencies by political parties gains momentum, we need to understand that as people assess the situation on the ground, they will form different opinions. That is to be expected.

“There are those who are saying these rallies mean that elections are in the horizon.”

He added: “Hence, today the LCD leadership and executive committee are saying that the fact that Lesotho has been going for elections over and over again, not to mention the drama that unfolds during the three-month election campaigns when politicians throw stones at each other, leading to some of those leaders fleeing the country and going into exile post elections.

“This happened with the ABC leader Thomas Thabane in 2015 and others, including myself in 2017, tells you that there is no use going to elections before the end of the prescribed five years.”

He, however, expressed frustration at the conduct of government as regards preparations for reforms, contending that government had failed to demonstrate that it is committed and takes responsibility.

“So far, from where we are standing we can conclude that we are not content with the manner in which government is handling this huge responsibility of implementing the reform process.

“We now need to focus on reforming our laws so that when we go for elections, any government that will result from the polls will be stable and usher peace and add to the quality of lives of Basotho,” Metsing said.

While Mokhothu’s argument was that coalitions weakened democracy and are costly due to bloated cabinets and rampant corruption, hence voters should cast their votes in favour of one political party, Metsing argued that going to elections did not guarantee that the result would not be a hung parliament which would automatically lead to a coalition government.

The LCD also rejected the possibility of one political party garnering majority votes at the polls, arguing that judging by the voting patterns from 2012 when the first coalition government was ushered in to date, it was unrealistic to expect otherwise.

“That is not going to happen anytime soon. We are saying perhaps after five years if this government continues on its destructive path, then people might take their votes from them.

“What we believe as LCD is that should Lesotho go for elections next week, we will still emerge on the other side with a coalition government; the same as what we have now where there is not stability and peace. There’s no use calling elections in an environment that is not conducive.”

Whereas Mokhothu stressed the need for a one-party government to improve Lesotho’s economic prospects and investor confidence, Metsing said the trend of going to elections time and again “creates a bad impression on investors with our already compromised economy”.

“At least we know why this government is stagnating. Our youth are educated but unemployed. A parliament that is elected all the time will not make any difference.

“What’s important is whether our country is stable enough to lure investors to help create jobs and eradicate the rampant poverty,” Metsing said.

“If elections were to be called tomorrow, it would not send a message of hope to investors. They will lose faith in us and have the impression that in Lesotho, going to elections over and over again is about the survival of politicians. That is not to our benefit at all.

“Perhaps the LCD would like to be part of any government that might result from anticipated polls but that is not important as far as LCD is concerned.

“The question should be: will elections respond effectively to our concerns? We now know that our constitution has serious shortcomings when it comes the running of coalition governments.”

Last week, Mokhothu said since the introduction of coalition governments, the first of which was borne of the of a hung parliament post-2012 general polls, he had realised that such administrations were costly to the public as they were used as “grounds of opportunism for people who have lost the spirit of patriotism”.

“I have told people that coalition governments are very expensive and heavy on the public purse. I want a situation where the DC wins the majority of constituencies and we just establish a coalition government with other parties because it is a DC policy, not because we are at their mercy because they are kingmakers,” Mokhothu said.

“One of the DC’s principles is to unite this nation and the partners that we are working with today as these are the same parties that we will be working with when we become government.

“They will be joining us because they approve of how DC does things and that DC will lead. Yes, we need to win the majority of seats in parliament. That is more than 61 seats to govern.”

Mokhothu added that it was imperative for the DC to grow and become strong enough to win majority seats in parliament in order to govern because the party had graduated from the common understanding among Lesotho politicians, of forming coalition governments with a view “to raiding the public purse” adding “coalition governments in Lesotho undermine democracy”.

“Going forward, the partners that we invite into our government should understand and appreciate the DC’s vision. We need to restore peace and stability as well as economic growth in Lesotho.

“We need to move from the status quo where being in cabinet is about what political parties are getting and not the advancement of the country and its citizenry,” Mokhothu said.

“Coalition governments are not for the benefit of this country; its economic growth and stability. If anything, they have rendered our democracy vulnerable to opportunists. There is evidence from as far back as 2012 that coalitions have been exploited for all the wrong reasons and we are fed-up with that.

“We are quite fed-up with coalition governments that always lead Basotho snap elections.”

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