Boycott, filibuster or engage: which way for opposition?
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?