- When police in an unstable regime, make statement after statement warning the citizens not to congregate or do one thing or another, experience has taught us that such a regime is on notice. It is always a sign of panic and desperation by the declining order or one which is imploding. Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the police issuing warnings to people not to go to the airport to welcome one of the political leaders; we have also witnessed, a futile attempt to stop thousands of people at the Maseru border to welcome some of the exiles who returned to Lesotho a week ago; we are now hearing warnings in radio stations that the people should not attempt to go to the Maseru border to welcome the three political leaders who are also returning to Lesotho from exile. These are the signs of a collapsing regime. It relies more on fear than acceptance. The problem for the Mosisili regime is that it no longer has the necessary support in parliament and outside to rule legitimately. This is likely to be demonstrated by the crowds which will attend the welcome rally on 12/02/2017 of the three political leaders who have been in exile for close to two years. History is likely to be made in front of our eyes. This is so because people no longer fear the regime.
When Mosisili cobbled together a coalition government made up of seven political parties in Lesotho after the 2015 snap elections, it was obvious to all that the coalition would not endure. It was made up of political parties which largely had no following except Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) which as will be shown below had some following. But even that, the LCD was a declining political force which could not do without leaning heavily on the military. Those on Mosisili’s side however argued that the coalition would be stable and could endure until 2020 when the next elections are expected. The main reason they put up was that that motley of small insignificant political parties were breakaways of the Congress parties which allegedly shared a common ideology even if they had set themselves up as separate political entities.
Understandably the minor parties were not really there for anything except to ensure that they remain in government since on their own they could not envisage being in government. This arrangement ensured that the least popular parties in terms of the results of the 2015 elections were in government with their single seat allowing them to be ministers. In some instances, some of those were not able to get even 2000 votes countrywide while the quota for one seat was 4600 in the 2015 elections. It was thus understood that those small parties could not influence the stability or otherwise of the coalition. It was not in their interests to attempt anything that could result in them losing their ministerial pecks. Therefore as long as the DC and the LCD agreed on the way forward, the chances of the coalition falling apart were remote.
It was however also possible to envisage the split between the two primary coalition partners in view of the arrangements for sharing of power which tended to favour the smaller LCD at the expense of the DC. From the very beginning, there were murmurs that the deputy leader of the DC was marginalised by placing several leaders of the coalition parties which had virtually no following above him in the pegging order of government protocol. This is why when the fight the soul of the DC was being contested, one of Mosisili’s ministers was able to publicly say that the deputy leader of the DC was could not become acting Prime Minister if Mosisili resigned. On the contrary, she argued, that the Leader of LCD would assume the leadership. It was also clear from the beginning that the Prime Minister would only be a ceremonial figure with Metsing, the LCD leader and Kamoli of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) as the de facto leaders in a civilian lead government where real power resided in the military. The mass detention of army officers; their torture; exile of the leaders of the political parties represented in parliament and some army officers confirmed to all that the new order would be civilian in name only.
As a result of the limited support of the government, there were two possible scenarios. First was the cultivation of consensus politics as a way of ensuring that the government ruled by consent. The second scenario was to militarise the regime in order to inculcate fear amongst the people. This seems to have been the preferred route. The cold-blooded murder of Lt. General Mahao, former Commander of the LDF, was a way of demonstrating the brutality that the regime was prepared to go in to ensure its hold on power.
The table below shows the numerical weakness in parliament of the political parties which formed the coalition government of 2015.
Political party Number of seats in parliament
Democratic Congress 47
Lesotho Congress for Democracy 12
Popular Front for Democracy 2
National Independence Party 1
Marematlou Freedom Party 1
Basutoland Congress Party 1
Lesotho Congress for Democracy 1
Out of 120 seats, the coalition had 65 seats in parliament. The defection of only five members of parliament would thus bring down the coalition. More importantly the national and international outcry following the murder of Lt. General Mahao and the detention of over sixty soldiers ensured that the regime was unable to build national consensus. As a result of some of the above, two leading political parties in the coalition began to crack and finally split, leaving Mosisili’s coalition severely wounded and with insufficient numbers in parliament to rule. Instead of submitting to the reality in parliament, Mosisili and his partners began to devise strategies for avoiding the sitting of parliament where he faced a threat of vote of no confidence.
Towards the end of 2016 the coalition was thus severely rocked by the defection of Monyane Moleleki from the DC to the opposition side when he formed his party, Alliance of Democrats (AD) which claims to command the support of up to 24 members of parliament. Fourteen such MPs are those who won constituencies seats and are thus able to cross the flow when parliament reopens. The others are more likely to remain formally as members of DC but will vote with their party of choice when so required in parliament. This has brought about a lot of panic and desperation to those in power in Lesotho. Granted, the government side may rely on about four votes from disgruntled members of parliament from both the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Basotho National Party (BNP). The breakup of the LCD, with its Secretary General forming a new party does not change the make-up of parliament since the new party is expected to support the government in parliament. Mochoboroane, its leader, has a feud with the LCD leader, but otherwise supports the present regime.
The exodus through resignation of no less than eight ministers from the government was debilitating for Mosisili. The fact that three months down the line, those have not been replaced is indicative of the helplessness of the situation. Looking at the table above, it is clear that an attempt to fill those vacancies would leave the coalition in an even more perilous position where in a parliament with about 43 people in the government benches, 35 would be ministers. But of the remaining eight ministers, two were dismissed before the others resigned. A government where there is more than three times the number of ministers than backbenchers would be a very strange one. How would such government be able to operate? Who would be available for parliamentary committees? The long and short is that Mosisili’s government is so paralysed that it is unable to move any legislation in parliament. It for the same reason that the Minister of Finance, has now appropriated over half a billion Maloti through cabinet, rather than parliament. This desperate move will be found to be outside the law. In our law only parliament has the power of appropriation.
It is in this context that we have seen attempts to prolong a government which has lost not only its numerical majority in parliament, but also credibility. In an attempt to hold on to power, a number of desperate means have been attempted. These include intimidation; using procedural technicalities to ensure that parliament does not meet; and attempts to reduce the numbers of opposition members in parliament.
As the implosion of the regime intensifies, it has increasingly resorted to using force to ensure compliance. We have cases where police have been used to harass and arrest political activists for nothing. The strategy seems to be to arrest people on a hoof and then fail to charge them. In one such case, the person (Thuso Litjobo of DC) was arrested and shipped to some rural police station only to find that there was no case when it reached court. In another case police arrested a person (Machesetsa Mofomobe of BNP) only to find out later that the immediate superior of the arresting officer, claimed he had no clue about the arrest and could not locate the officer who had arrested the Machesetsa. Despite the High Court Order that Machesetsa be brought to court the following day, the police did not charge him. This is a case where the motive was more about harassment than about enforcing the law. They arrest to investigate and not to investigate before arresting a person.
The intensification of repression through the police and military has become more pronounced. The main organ being used now is the joint police and army unit which liberally disperses rallies and demonstrations by opposition members. It is the same unit that has been harassing people and arresting them without any identification that they are policemen. The interventionist role that the police have been used to play lately is worrying. The police deny permissions to protest and often use all measures to prevent such demonstrations.
Over and above the repression, at the political level, the main thrust of the government has been geared to keep the numbers of opposition members in parliament small through threats. For over a year three opposition leaders represented in parliament have been living in exile in South Africa. They were later joined by a few other members of parliament. In a new development most of the civilian exiles have now returned to the country and were met by thousands of people at the Maseru border post. The imminent return of the three leaders of the opposition to the country poses a major challenge to the strategy of keeping the numbers of opposition members down. That means that the opposition will now have an overwhelming number in parliament while the government numbers will have decreased considerably.
The government side has also been desperately trying to expel about thirteen members of parliament from parliament ostensibly on the ground that that they missed one third of the sittings of parliament in 2015. The funny thing here is that the Speaker has abrogated to herself the power to declare vacancies of alleged transgressions which took place in 2015. Why now? Since this action has been challenged and heard in the High Court, it is wise to refrain from discussing the merits of this until a ruling has been made. But the interesting thing during the hearing of this case is that the government’s South African lawyer’s pleaded that the court makes a ruling before the opening of parliament. The main issue here is a way of cutting down the numbers of members of parliament who are likely to vote for a motion of no confidence when parliament is reopened.
The desperation to survive the vote of no confidence is driving the government into all sorts of actions which include appropriating funds instead of submitting those to parliament. It is close to the end whatever strategies the government devises. In a democracy politicians must submit to the majority.