The legacy of the speaker and deputy
dissolution of parliament does not only mark the end of term for MPs but also signals the possibilities for new presiding officers in the next parliament.
Shortly after 2012 General Elections that born the hung parliament, in fact in the first sitting of the 8th Parliament one of the political gurus of this Kingdom Rt hon Sepheri Motanyane was elected the Speaker of the National Assembly and deputised by the Leader of a leftist Popular Front for Democracy, advocate Lekhetho Rakuane.
The question that concern those who value presiding of parliament as significant for Lesotho’s constitution particularly in the dynamic parliament like the 8th, is “what is legacy of their short lived tenure of office?”
The Speaker of National Assembly in the 8th Parliament was the deputy Speaker in the 7th but his profile is longer, deeper and weighs far more than this.
Besides having been the youngest members of parliament in the first modern parliament in 1965, he has been a member for his constituency for all elected parliaments consistently since then to 2012 representing Basutoland Congress Party and Lesotho Congress for Democracy.
The Deputy Speaker has been a youth and student activist, a member of Committee for Action and Solidarity for Southern African Students, a breeding ground for leftist political orientation operating at the National University of Lesotho. Later he practised as a human rights lawyer, led and worked for civil society before he joined active party politics.
Until he became the Deputy Speaker, Rakuane has played mediatory politics thus making him a kingmaker in many of the recorded political tensions in this country. This is confirmed by his election to become a co-chairperson of Interim Political Authority and leader of parliamentary reform process. But how have they presided over parliament in their time?
The 8th Parliament had many challenges and the rulings of the two top officials will for posterity go to journals just like those of those who came before them. The departure of BCP leader from the party with the majority of the National Assembly to form Lesotho Con- gress for Democracy that mounted to the pinnacle of control of state power without elections attracted criticism to the Speaker. Similar case occurred with Democratic Congress and the situation was even more dynamic in the 8th parliament.
This history placed a very huge pressure on the presiding officers because in there has been a strong perception that parliamentary processes have conveniently been hijacked to favour those who head executive. When the Leader of BBDP placed the motion of no confidence and MP for Makhaleng wanted it treated as an urgent matter, the Deputy Speaker stood firm to the Standing Orders.
Though opposition members insisted on the interpretation that advanced their desires, becoming unruly and thus turning the house into being ungovernable as they sung the National Assembly, the Deputy Speaker stood the ground. When he resigned as a Member of Parliament, the Deputy Speaker remained, in office while the constitution disallows that.
In realisation he resigned forthwith, something that may not be possible with others. It is the same Deputy Speaker who remained firm on the Standing Orders when the government side wanted him to unprocedurally deny opposition members right to table unwanted motion.
The Speaker had very sober rulings on a number of requests and notifications seeking to alter power configurations in parliament.
When the Minister of Home Affairs opposed function of Hon Mochoboroane as the Minister in the house because he was not, the Speaker took time to consult and make ruling. When he ruled that the matter is subjudicae yet he would not allow him to respond to the questions directed to the ministry of communication rather the collective responsibility facility could be used, opposition in and outside government rose in protest.
Though Advocate Retšelisitsoe Masenyetse a former civil servant who served in senior positions and had considerable exposure is one of the sober minds in the house on the DC bench, what he said about the Speaker that he was a sham who degraded the parliamentary procedures cannot just be ignored. Hon Masenyetse even indicated that they warned SADC about failures of the Speaker and his ability to objectively lead the house.
While the appraisal of the presiding officers, is an open cause, it may not justifiable be claimed that the duo lowered the standards in their conduct. The level of maturity and firmness displayed by these presiding officers have without doubt taught many that the excessive influence that executive used to enjoy over the legislative procedures was denied in this 8th parliament.
The contemplated numerous changes of power configuration in the 8th parliament without such a brilliant and firm guidance could have easily eroded the image of this institution which is expected to check executive.
In terms of the constitution, the first function of the new parliament shall be to elect the Speaker and the deputy after members would have taken oath.
Though this is largely a matter to political power arrangement in parliament, it would be very important for the parliament to look for strength and ability to lead the house from Standing Orders and necessary brilliance to consult.
Understandably some, perhaps those who have been under their direct leadership, may differ with this narrative but certainly there should be a common ground that the duo gave new look of the parliament.
The Leadership of the President of the Senate and his Deputy has equally added value to the respectability of the house. Organising training sessions for the Senators and exposing them to various fora. It would therefore be equally prudent for the members of the Upper House to remain vigilant in the choice of its presiding officers.
Because the Upper House can benefit more in establishing linkages with various sectors and ability of its members to engage the contemporary issues, there is a need for vigilant leadership.