Democ­racy and our dig­nity paramount

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

LE­SOTHO sits on the precipice with the 8th Par­lia­ment set to be dis­solved to­mor­row. The events of the next two to three months will put this coun­try’s al­ready frag­ile demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions un­der tremen­dous strain but, God will­ing, we will pull through.

Our con­sti­tu­tion does not make pro­vi­sion for, nor does it have guide­lines on the mo­dus operandi of a care­taker gov­ern­ment. Omi­nously, how­ever, pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions have taken such tran­si­tional pe­ri­ods as be­ing given carte blanche to make con­tro­ver­sial but le­gal de­ci­sions.

The am­bi­gu­ity in our statutes re­gard­ing a care­taker gov­ern­ment has wors­ened an al­ready del­i­cate tran­si­tional pe­riod.

There are no bench­marks or lim­i­ta­tions on the con­duct of the prime min­is­ter dur­ing the pe­riod. Prime Min­is­ter Thomas Tha­bane has been ac­cused by his erst­while coali­tion gov­ern­ment part­ner, Le­sotho Congress for Democ­racy leader Mo­th­etjoa Mets­ing, of not abid­ing by the con­sul­ta­tive spirit of the coali­tion agree­ment.

For Le­sotho’s sake, we hope the premier proves Mr Mets­ing wrong by se­cur­ing the na­tion’s in­ter­ests first, ahead of any par­ti­san con­sid­er­a­tions.

In­deed, while dur­ing this pe­riod the premier is legally em­pow­ered to have the fi­nal say on all mat­ters of state, the time de­mands hu­mil­ity and self­less­ness, on his part, to safe­guard our fledg­ling democ­racy.

We can ill af­ford to have the gains of the peace­ful trans­fer of power in 2012 eroded on the al­tar of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency. The im­pov­er­ished peo­ple in our towns and ci­ties de­serve bet­ter.

The good­will this na­tion has gar­nered in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity can­not be al­lowed to wilt. So it is in­cum­bent upon our lead­er­ship to bear that in mind.

De­spite there be­ing no law specif­i­cally deal­ing with care­taker gov­ern­ments, Le­sotho does not need to rein­vent the wheel. We can take pos­i­tive cues from other coun­tries which had the fore­sight to en­shrine that clause in their laws as well as those which have gone through the process.

Con­sid­er­ing we sent a multi-stake­holder del­e­ga­tion to New Zealand ear­lier this year, whose Mixed Mem­ber Pro­por­tion (MMP) par­lia­men­tary sys­tem form of gov­ern­ment is strik­ingly sim­i­lar to Le­sotho’s it is only be­fit­ting that we start from there.

Among other clauses, the New Zealand laws in re­gards to decision mak­ing mech­a­nisms dur­ing a care­taker gov­ern­ment state that sig­nif­i­cant de­ci­sions, new pol­icy, or changes to ex­ist­ing pol­icy and ac­tions with long-term im­pli­ca­tions should be de­ferred, if pos­si­ble, dur­ing that pe­riod. It also states that if it is not pos­si­ble to de­fer de­ci­sions of that na­ture, the gov­ern­ment should han­dle mat­ters us­ing tem­po­rary or hold­ing ar­range­ments that do not com­mit the gov­ern­ment in the longer term.

If nei­ther de­fer­ral nor tem­po­rary ar­range­ments are pos­si­ble, the gov­ern­ment should un­der­take po­lit­i­cal con­sul­ta­tion. Un­der such an ar­range­ment, no hard and fast rules are pos­si­ble. The care­taker gov­ern­ment will need to take into ac­count var­i­ous con­sid­er­a­tions (in­clud­ing po­lit­i­cal), both on the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness or ne­ces­sity of pro­ceed­ing on a mat­ter, and how it should be han­dled.

The im­por­tance of abid­ing by, not only the let­ter, but spirit of the law can­not be overem­pha­sized. A care­taker gov­ern­ment is ex­actly that; it must be han­dle the af­fairs of state with due care. Oth­er­wise it risks set­ting off a pow­der keg of per­pet­ual in­sta­bil­ity.

The man­age­ment of the up­com­ing poll needs to be above board to en­sure we have a rel­a­tively free, fair and cred­i­ble elec­tion.

How­ever, even in the event of disquiet from play­ers in the po­lit­i­cal arena, it is the care­taker gov­ern­ment’s role to look at all the queries ob­jec­tively with­out be­ing tinted by par­ti­san­ship. The care­taker gov­ern­ment is for all Ba­sotho, ir­re­spec­tive of po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion, and the for­mer should rise to the oc­ca­sion.

At the end of this pe­riod we are en­ter­ing, democ­racy and the dig­nity of Ba­sotho should tri­umph above who­ever emerges the win­ner in the elec­tion.

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