Democracy and our dignity paramount
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.