Echoes from old foot prints

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Makha­bane ne maluke

DEMOC­RACY is a com­mod­ity of many shapes. Its shape is de­pen­dent on how it is han­dled. Le­sotho al­ways has new ac­tors and a new gen­er­a­tion of vot­ers who con­tin­u­ously board the Le­sotho demo­cratic train. Some come with new ideas, oth­ers only tinker with and ex­press the Old Tes­ta­ment in dif­fer­ent words. Such new com­ers de­serve to know the ex­pe­ri­ences of the pi­o­neers. Democ­racy de­serves to be nur­tured and not tossed up and down like a yo-yo.

De­pend­ing on who each new­comer is, their “on your mark, get set, go!” in ac­tive pol­i­tics could be dur­ing any of the fol­low­ing points in the his­tory of democ­racy in Le­sotho. It could be 1968, when the PM of the time re­port­edly gave a fi­nal warn­ing to the for­mer King to abide by the con­sti­tu­tion or face ac­tion. It could be 1970 when the in­de­pen­dence con­sti­tu­tion and the demo­crat­i­cally-elected par­lia­ment were sus­pended; or 1973 when par­lia­ment was re­stored as an un­elected In­terim Na­tional Assem­bly. It could be in 1979 when a de­ci­sion to es­tab­lish a reg­u­lar army out of the Po­lice Mo­bile Unit was tabled in the In­terim Na­tional Assem­bly.

It could as well be 1984 when apartheid South Africa threat­ened to with­draw its sup­port un­less Le­sotho signed the Nko­mati-type Ac­cord with it. The year 1986 was a pe­riod of the fa­mous blood­less coup, fol­lowed be a mil­i­tary an­nounce­ment to swiftly move to de­moc­ra­tize and the Con­stituent Na­tional Assem­bly es­tab­lished to pave the way for the 1993 con­sti­tu­tion. It could be 1994 which had the first demo­crat­i­cally-elected deputy prime min­is­ter gunned down (sadly, no Com­mis­sion of In­quiry for that). The year 2004 even had a mem­ber of the Clergy con­victed for high trea­son.

The fore­go­ing are some in­ci­dents which punc­tu­ated the early part of the demo­cratic route whose com­mon fea­ture was con­fronta­tional pol­i­tics. Where each new comer boarded this train was not the be­gin­ning of the rail; the start was way back in 1966. And the rail still leads on with even more en­thu­si­as­tic new com­ers board­ing in earnest. The 2020 elec­tion may see new po­lit­i­cal par­ties en­ter­ing the con­test to be gov­ern­ment.

This ar­ti­cle se­lects to sur­vey this route from the 1993 stage when demo­cratic rule re­turned to Le­sotho. Since then, many ac­tivists, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and elec­tors have been born and joined to mer­rily roll along in this old demo­cratic train: with some hope for the jour­ney to be en­joy­able and ex­pect­ing to be a gov­ern­ment.

A sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone of this se­lected part of the route was the 17-22 Septem­ber 1995 Na­tional Dia­logue on Democ­racy, Sta­bil­ity and De­vel­op­ment. Le­sotho had once again po­lit­i­cally stum­bled. At­ten­dance was an un­usual full house. Many na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, which mat­tered then, par­tic­i­pated.

Even the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee of that Dia­logue was un­sure of how the con­fer­ence would go. By the mere na­ture of the at­ten­dance mix, it was no sur­prise that the im­me­di­ate mat­ter of con­tention was whether the out­comes would be “bind­ing res­o­lu­tions” or “only rec­om­men­da­tions”. The later pre­vailed, vest­ing author­ity of ex­e­cu­tion in the right­ful cus­to­dian: a demo­crat­i­cally-elected gov­ern­ment.

Rec­om­men­da­tions in­cluded the for­ma­tion of the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (about which the rul­ing BCP opted to “re­serve its po­si­tion” and as­cer­tained that the Dia­logue Dec­la­ra­tion high­lighted that). Need to re­view the FPTP elec­toral model was also rec­om­mended (lead­ing to the cur­rent MMP model). En­large­ment of Se­nate — pro­por­tion­ate to the num­ber of con­stituen­cies and in­clu­sion of grass­roots and some kind of elec­tion pro­ce­dure to make Se­nate a “truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive in­sti­tu­tion in a democ­racy” was also rec­om­mended.

That Dia­logue had a clear say on the Le­sotho Se­cu­rity Forces (SFS). Un­der rec­om­men­da­tions, the fol­low­ing was the view: “….democ­racy was a fer­tile ground for the SFS to ex­e­cute their du­ties dili­gently and ef­fi­ciently, and it of­fers an asy­lum where no tyrant and ma­nip­u­la­tion could pen­e­trate”. It rec­om­mended: “the SFS should take ad­van­tage of the new dis­pen­sa­tion … and gauge how best they could help to make Le­sotho gov­ern­able by en­sur­ing se­cu­rity in the coun­try… and should self­lessly de­fend the con­sti­tu­tion when­ever at­tempts were made to vi­o­late it”.

In­ter­est­ingly, it was rec­om­mended that MPS and other peo­ple in author­ity “should de­sist from ha­rass­ing mem­bers of the SFS by call­ing them names”. The Dia­logue even listed prin­ci­ples un­der which gov­ern­ment ought to re­late with the SFS: gov­ern­ment should not use SFS to di­vide or re­press the na­tion; gov­ern­ment should not in­ter­fere with the com­mand struc­ture of the SFS. On these, new com­ers are in­vited to look back to when they boarded the demo­cratic train, to re­view how their roles and in­puts have fared, lead­ing to the cur­rent state of af­fairs in Le­sotho.

Sub­se­quent to that Dia­logue, the demo­cratic Le­sotho had its IECS re­placed at the right time. New com­ers are en­cour­aged to have some in­ter­est to in­quire whether any of the pre­vi­ous IECS had any dra­matic in­ci­dents dur­ing its ten­ure. Their ma­jor headache was fail­ure to ac­cept de­feat by the knocked out po­lit­i­cal par­ties, de­spite their in­volve­ment and en­dorse­ment of prepa­ra­tions lead­ing to elec­tions.

The op­po­si­tion tended to dis­credit elec­tions.

It was the tran­si­tion to the cur­rent IEC that dif­fer­ent forms of drama sur­faced. Psy­cho­me­t­ric test was in­tro­duced for the can­di­dates. Did that en­sure the ap­pro­pri­ate cal­iber of com­mis­sion­ers, com­pared against test scores of can­di­dates who failed to get ap­pointed?

Was it by de­fault or de­sign that those com­mis­sion­ers re­spec­tively be­longed to the three po­lit­i­cal par­ties form­ing the coali­tion gov­ern­ment?

Was it con­ven­tional for Head of gov­ern­ment, in a democ­racy, to make a pub­lic pro­nounce­ment at a po­lit­i­cal rally that the new com­mis­sion­ers were in­deed par­ti­san?

Could that pro­nounce­ment have been a brag just to gen­er­ate ad­di­tional cheer­ing from the en­thu­si­as­tic party faith­ful at that rally?

It could have, as well, been in the spirit of ex­press­ing hope for the im­pend­ing ef­fi­cient ser­vice de­liv­ery by that new par­ti­san IEC. Sadly, that elec­tion man­age­ment body also re­mained silent on the mat­ter.

Com­mon sense ex­pected it to at least dis­as­so­ci­ate it­self from that pro­nounce­ment: un­less it did and their re­sponse was not as pub­lic as the pro­nounce­ment by the Head of gov­ern­ment.

Be­sides dif­fer­ent sets of bal­lot pa­per in a sin­gle con­stituency, there was a more se­ri­ous is­sue of omis­sions in the vot­ers’ lists where at some polling sta­tions, the of­fi­cial lists omit­ted some voter card hold­ers.

In some in­stances, amend­ing or ad­di­tional lists were printed and se­lec­tively de­liv­ered to polling sta­tions late on the Elec­tion Day. If that was nor­mal or jus­ti­fi­able, which is doubt­ful, why did a District Elec­toral Of­fi­cer not of­fer copies of the same, on re­quest by an in­ter­ested can­di­date to ver­ify the facts?

In­stead, the re­sponse was that there were no copies in of­fice other than those dis­patched to polling sta­tions. Where was trans­parency here? An Ob­jec­tion Form which listed other ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties e g bal­lot boxes be­ing de­liv­ered sep­a­rately from their elec­tion pack­ets was timely filed but never re­sponded to. That re­flects in the IEC.

Re­cent or cur­rent po­lit­i­cal events urge one’s mind to re­visit the 1995 Na­tional Dia­logue. Why did the BCP opt to re­serve its po­si­tion on the rec­om­men­da­tion to es­tab­lish an IEC?

By then, BCP was a mass party ca­pa­ble of tak­ing all the con­stituen­cies. Sus­pi­cion is that it be­lieved more in the prin­ci­ple of supremacy of the peo­ple as a pil­lar of democ­racy. It may have had a be­lief that the size of its large fol­low­ing guar­an­teed it a win, ir­re­spec­tive of who man­aged the elec­tion, and pro­vided it was a cred­i­ble man­ager. The Is­sue of the IEC was a pref­er­ence of par­ties that al­ways lost.

Sim­i­larly, why did the rul­ing BCP which had just sur­vived a coup in the early part of its first rule not have a tough stand against the SFS?

Could this at­ti­tude have some­thing to do with the no­tion that when the go­ing gets rough, only the tough get go­ing or the be­lief that congress spirit is un­put­down­able?

It is only now that the na­tion hears loud non-congress out­bursts that Le­sotho does not ac­tu­ally de­serve to have a stand­ing army of LDF stature. There are also ut­ter- an­ces link­ing the mil­i­tary with the con­gresses. On re­vis­it­ing his­tory, it is some of the cur­rently com­plain­ing ac­tors who cre­ated a mil­i­tary ma­chine when it suited them and now wish it away.

One won­ders why the Con­gresses just took the is­sue of par­ti­san IEC com­mis­sion­ers as they did. They did not go to town on the mat­ter. Un­like in 1993, there are now many Con­gresses. The re­al­iza­tion that these have re­dis­cov­ered them­selves and work with a unity of pur­pose, they still stand as a formidable force.

That is dis­cour­ag­ing to their nat­u­ral op­po­nents. All Congress late com­ers to this train are specif­i­cally urged to find the need to con­sol­i­date ef­forts to nur­ture this shape­less democ­racy and de­sist from dis­rup­tive ten­den­cies on board this train. In­tra-party peace, democ­racy and sta­bil­ity con­trib­ute to na­tional peace and sta­bil­ity.

It is many years since 1993. Many ef­forts have been made to steady this demo­cratic train. It could be in the pub­lic in­ter­est if some mech­a­nism was put in place

to es­tab­lish an in­ven­tory of all rec­om­men­da­tions made since the Na­tional Dia­logue with a pur­pose to just put out po­lit­i­cal fires.

A bal­ance sheet or tally of im­ple­mented and the unim­ple­mented rec­om­men­da­tions could re­veal the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture of Ba­sotho and the at­ti­tude of sit­ting gov­ern­ments. It could ac­tu­ally re­flect if ef­fected rec­om­men­da­tions have been for the bet­ter or worse; so as with the unim­ple­mented.

A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple is the non­im­ple­men­ta­tion of a rec­om­men­da­tion to en­large and de­moc­ra­tize the Se­nate. This could even en­able ex­pe­di­tious pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion. Bills could be in­tro­duced in both Houses and shut­tle in both di­rec­tions.

Presently, Se­nate re­mains only a pro­ce­dural in­sti­tu­tion. It could have more value if its in­puts ceased to be treated as bul­lets of wax even in mat­ters which Se­nate val­ued. It is such non-im­ple­men­ta­tion which may be in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

It could have been a con­ve­nient move to let sleep­ing dogs lie. The cur­rent sta­tus quo still serves some pur­pose be­cause the Se­nate re­mains a source of tal­ent for the gov­ern­ment through the con­sti­tu­tional nom­i­na­tion process. How do late com­ers view this?

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