Boy­cott, fil­i­buster or en­gage: which way for op­po­si­tion?

Lesotho Times - - Leader - So­fonea Shale

THE tabling of a bill to op­er­a­tionalise the hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, else­where in this edi­tion, is not only com­mend­able but a long over­due step in nip­ping the grow­ing cul­ture of im­punity in the bud.

If passed into law, the bill would spawn an in­de­pen­dent hu­man rights watch­dog to pro­tect the rights of cit­i­zens. The Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion would in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute all rights vi­o­la­tors and mon­i­tor the state of hu­man rights in Le­sotho as well as the rights sit­u­a­tion of de­tainees.

The com­mis­sion would be all the more wel­come given Le­sotho’s re­cent tor­tured his­tory. Over the course of this year alone, a num­ber of hu­man rights in­frac­tions have gone un­pun­ished.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, Cor­po­ral Ngoliso Ma­jara was maimed and dis­fig­ured in a gun bat­tle with his Le­sotho Defence Force (LDF) col­leagues near the Royal Palace in Fe­bru­ary. The shootout claimed the life of pri­vate se­cu­rity guard, Mo­hau Qo­bete (37), who was on duty at the nearby Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing head-of­fice. It also se­ri­ously in­jured Cor­po­ral Ma­jara’s col­league, Ma­jor Mo­jalefa Mosak­eng with the two fer­ried to a Bloem­fontein hospi­tal.

While the LDF later claimed that the wounded men had at­tacked their per­son­nel on guard duty at the of­fices of the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) Mis­sion af­ter re­fus­ing to stop at a check point, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by an au­ton­o­mous hu­man rights watch­dog would es­tab­lish the truth about what ex­actly hap­pened.

The killing of former army com­man­der Lieu­tenan­tgen­eral Maa­parankoe Ma­hao in June this year by his mil­i­tary col­leagues os­ten­si­bly for re­sist­ing ar­rest for mutiny would also re­quire the com­mis­sion’s at­ten­tion.

Added to this, the LDF’S re­fusal to re­lease 22 army of­fi­cers ac­cused of mutiny would be an in­frac­tion wor­thy of im­me­di­ate in­ter­ven­tion by the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that the de­tainees are now re­port­edly in soli­tary con­fine­ment.

As at­tested by the ex­am­ples listed above, if the com­mis­sion was al­ready op­er­a­tional, it would have a lot on its plate based on the hap­pen­ings of this year alone. Ad­mit­tedly, the bill has many ar­eas of con­cern, not least of which is the re­stric­tion for the hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate mat­ters in­volv­ing or deal­ing with the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho. This clause is all the more dis­con­cert­ing con­sid­er­ing that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments in Le­sotho have been re­spon­si­ble for many hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions over the years.

An­other area of con­cern is the re­stric­tion of the com­mis­sion to in­ter­vene on a mat­ter re­lat­ing to the “ex­er­cise of the pre­rog­a­tive of mercy”. This clause ul­ti­mately em­pow­ers the gov­ern­ment of the day to pro­tect hu­man rights abusers from pros­e­cu­tion. No one should be above the law even if they are con­nected to the pow­ers that be.

Th­ese are some of the ar­eas that need to be fine­tuned as the bill is dis­sected by the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on Law and Pub­lic Safety. This is be­cause while the spon­sors of the bill might have one eye on se­cur­ing their cur­rent po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions, they should bear in mind that the com­mis­sion should serve them whether they are in power or in the op­po­si­tion. As Amer­i­can the­olo­gian and author James Free­man Clarke rightly noted: “A politi­cian thinks of the next elec­tion. A states­man, of the next gen­er­a­tion.”

Be that as it may, the com­mis­sion is an im­por­tant means of pro­mot­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and re­duc­ing past ten­sion by es­tab­lish­ing the truth about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and their causes, re­spond­ing to the needs of vic­tims to re­count their sto­ries and propos­ing re­forms and rec­om­men­da­tions that may con­trib­ute to the strength­en­ing of democ­racy in the coun­try.

For the com­mis­sion to be ef­fec­tive, it needs per­son­nel of un­ques­tion­able in­tegrity, with im­pec­ca­ble hu­man rights records. They must also have demon­stra­ble com­mit­ment to and lead­er­ship in the cause of hu­man rights, con­flict trans­for­ma­tion, con­cil­i­a­tion and me­di­a­tion. Politi­cians and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists have no place in the com­mis­sion if it is to ef­fec­tively dis­charge its du­ties by deal­ing with past vi­o­la­tions. Though op­po­si­tion MPS unan­i­mously de­cided ear­lier to boy­cott par­lia­men­tary sit­tings, it may look like such con­sen­sus is no longer as strong as it orig­i­nally was. Some MPS are in­formed by the is­sues in the pub­lic sphere and feel that may be the boy­cott of par­lia­men­tary sit­tings is not the way to go. Oth­ers find the strat­egy still rel­e­vant and should be pushed. Now the big ques­tion dis­cussed in the pub­lic space is Boy­cott, fil­i­buster or en­gage: which way for Op­po­si­tion?

The op­po­si­tion MPS went on protest against the gov­ern­ment po­si­tion on the death of former Com­man­der of Le­sotho Defence Force in the hands of the in­sti­tu­tion which was sup­posed to pro­tect him and in par­tic­u­lar the so called re­luc­tance of par­lia­ment to ad­dress the is­sue of op­po­si­tion lead­ers in ex­ile. Though at times Ba­sotho ar­gue over the def­i­ni­tion of Le­sotho sit­u­a­tion mainly in­formed by the po­lit­i­cal in­cli­na­tions, it has been well cap­tured by the SADC Trou­ble Troika in the pres­ence of Head of Gov­ern­ment of the King­dom of Le­sotho on the 3rd July 2015 sit­ting at Tšoane in South Africa.

In terms of Sec­tion 4 page 1 of the SADC Dou­ble Troika Ex­tra­or­di­nary Sum­mit Com­mu­niqué, SADC de­fines the Le­sotho sit­u­a­tion as one in which po­lit­i­cal-se­cu­rity de­te­ri­o­ra­tion has led to flee­ing of op­po­si­tion lead­ers fear­ing for their lives, the re­al­ity wors­ened by the by tragic death of the former com­man­der of Le­sotho Defence Force.

on the ba­sis of this de­scrip­tion, the re­gional body de­cided on a num­ber of is­sues shap­ing its in­ter­ven­tion in Le­sotho. SADC urged the Gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho to fa­cil­i­tate re­turn home of op­po­si­tion Lead­ers as a mat­ter of ur­gency. SADC and other in­ter­na­tional ac­tors have urged the Gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho to speed up the re­forms process. It is clear from this back­ground that the mil­i­tary ques­tion, the sta­tus of op­po­si­tion lead­ers in ex­ile are real is­sues that need to be tack­led more so when the gov­ern­ment is also talk­ing about re­forms. The Phumaphi com­mis­sion has also added its flavour to the ur­gency of the mat­ter.

When MPS de­cide on the strate­gies to mount pres­sure on gov­ern­ment to fast track the pro­cesses of re­turn home, one would clearly see the ben­e­fit to gov­ern­ment as well. Putting aside the ques­tion of par­lia­men­tary strength, the re­forms process owes its cred­i­bil­ity to two things, namely col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach by politi­cians and the ex­tent to which it will be pop­u­lar driven. What mat­ters now is the choice of strat­egy by the op­po­si­tion MPS. Boy­cott, fil­i­buster or en­gage: Which way for Op­po­si­tion?

Boy­cott of par­lia­men­tary sit­tings refers to the de­ci­sion not to at­tend the par­lia­men­tary sit­ting as a way of demon­strat­ing dis­con­tent. The ef­fect of this strat­egy is to put cred­i­bil­ity and the po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy of the work of par­lia­ment into dis­re­pute. Nor­mally this makes im­pact where gov­ern­ment is des­per­ate for the pres­ence of op­po­si­tion on mat­ters which would clearly need their in­dul­gence.

Fur­ther it is a bad sig­nal in­ter­na­tion­ally for the par­lia­ment to be gov­ern­ment alone though pop­u­lar vote have done a mix­ture. But for a gov­ern­ment which has de­vel­oped a thick skin, gov­ern­ment busi­ness can still pro­ceed with­out op­po­si­tion. The chal­lenge of this ap­proach is that MPS have to con­vince their elec­tors that do­ing so does not deny them right to be rep­re­sented.

On the other hand, fil­i­bus­ter­ing refers to the hy­per ac­tivism of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans par­tic­u­larly op­po­si­tion with the in­ten­tion of de­lay­ing or dis­rupt­ing the proper func­tion of par­lia­ment. It is equally a method of protest.

In this strat­egy MPS would raise on points of or­der on sev­eral as­pects of the same is­sue. They raise is­sues, con­cerns, wor­ries and per­sis­tently en­gage gov­ern­ment Min­is­ters, MPS and the Speaker on is­sues that sys­tem­at­i­cally de­lay fo­cus and con­cen­tra­tion on the tabled mo­tions.

They also pro­pose amend­ments to the pro­posed bills and en­gage in a lot of other par­lia­men­tary pro­cesses that may give them op­por­tu­nity demon­strate how rel­e­vant their points are to the na­tion. In this way, op­po­si­tion turns its nu­mer­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion into in­flu­en­tial bar­rier to smooth run­ning of par­lia­ment thus mak­ing it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for gov­ern­ment leg­isla­tive pro­gramme to run as smoothly and in time.

More­over in this strat­egy, the Op­po­si­tion points of ar­gu­ments are not only for­mally raised with gov­ern­ment head -on but they are recorded for pos­ter­ity. on the In­de­pen­dence Mo­tion by Dr Le­abua Jonathan, Dr Ntsu Mokhehle talked for three full days in par­lia­ment and sev­eral other amend­ments, ques­tions and points of or- der raised by op­po­si­tion on that Mo­tion.

DC MPS turned par­lia­ment into a con­cert pre­vi­ously. En­gag­ing is a process where is­sues are raised with an­other party and ne­go­ti­a­tions are done within a di­a­logue set up. In this process, there are deeper re­flec­tions and give and take op­tions are gen­er­ated. In this strat­egy the way out of chal­lenges and the fu­ture are ne­go­ti­ated and nor­mally win-win is pos­si­ble. Boy­cott, fil­i­buster or en­gage: Which way for Op­po­si­tion?

It is not a mat­ter whether it is de­sir­able or not but op­po­si­tion MPS should think crit­i­cally about the choice of their meth­ods. If MPS can­not reg­is­ter their dis­con­tent in par­lia­ment and im­pose ban on them­selves in­stead of pres­suris­ing Speaker to send them out, they must ac­count to their elec­tors why that choice. There are ben­e­fits in boy­cott but does it re­ally fit in this sit­u­a­tion? If yes, let it be.

But equally op­po­si­tion MPS should tell elec­torate why they should con­tinue to be taxed with­out be­ing rep­re­sented. In the par­lia­men­tary democ­racy there is no crime more se­vere than tax­a­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion. This is ex­actly why pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers ter­ri­bly suf­fer po­lit­i­cal pres­sure when they ap­ply rules giv­ing them power to send MPS out.

This is the in­her­ent power of MPS to do fil­i­buster and other things but los­ing this strength dur­ing fight is self-stab­bing. Which­ever choice MPS make, the cen­tral mes­sage of the de­mand should al­ways be flashed at all ma­te­rial times, op­tions gen­er­ated and hard ar­gu­ments raised.

Fil­i­bus­ter­ing is a form of politi­ci­sa­tion as elec­tors be­gin to ap­pre­ci­a­tion the op­po­si­tion con­tentions and as­sess whether gov­ern­ment is be­ing re­spon­si­ble in its re­sponses. En­gage­ment is equally pre­sent­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to know what is be­ing dis­cussed, what is agreed and where the dif­fer­ences are.

Nor­mally this kind of pol­i­tics is cho­sen by those politi­cians who in­vest in the po­lit­i­cal aware­ness and reap in the in­formed pop­u­lar choices.

Which­ever strat­egy is cho­sen and which­ever one makes gov­ern­ment un­der­stand that there is a need for re­turn of op­po­si­tion lead­ers will ben­e­fit both gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion but also the peo­ple who des­per­ately need re­forms, some­thing that can only be done for cred­i­bil­ity col­lec­tively. Boy­cott, fil­i­buster or en­gage: Which way for Op­po­si­tion?

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