Lesotho supports historic stayaway

Opposition parties say the recent general election in Lesotho has ushered in a new era of political instability and intolerance, prompting them to stage an unprecedented two-day stayaway intended to force the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) to come to the negotiation table.

Just hours after the opening of Parliament last week, the leader of the All Basotho Convention, Tom Thabane, and leaders of other opposition parties in Parliament announced that they supported the claim by the leader of the opposition National Independent Party (NIP), Anthony Manyeli, that its alliance with the LCD in November last year was unlawful because he did not consent to it.

In November last year, the LCD proposed an alliance with the NIP, which Manyeli refused. The LCD subsequently went behind his back and formed an alliance with his deputy, Dominic Motikoe, without Manyeli’s knowledge.

Manyeli challenged the alliance in the High Court of Lesotho, which ruled in favour of Manyeli, but the LCD succeeded in having the decision overturned in the Court of Appeal.

However, the Lesotho Constitution states that any order or action of the High Court with regard to political parties and elections cannot be appealed or questioned.

A subsequent opposition protest was forcibly halted by the Lesotho Defence Force, who stormed the five parties’ parliamentary chambers.

The opposition parties then declared a national stayaway for Monday to Wednesday this week to “force government to come to the negotiation table” and resolve the issue of the alliance between the LCD and NIP.

The parties are also contesting the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) “unfair” allocation of parliamentary seats after the February elections. According to them, some parties did not get the number of seats they deserved, while the LCD was allocated more seats than it had won.

“As far as the IEC is concerned, we have allocated the proportional representation seats quite fairly and honestly, using the formula well-known to the protesting parties,” said Mphasa Mokhochane, Deputy Director of Elections in the IEC.

The stayaway received overwhelming national support and brought business and other essential services, such as public transport, to a complete halt.

Tens of thousands of workers stayed away from work, despite assurances from government that they would ensure their security and that transport would be made available to ferry them to and from their workplaces.

“I support the stayaway because I feel the time has come for the government, the IEC and the five opposition political parties to sit down and seriously discuss the issue of Manyeli’s party, which was abducted by the LCD without Manyeli’s knowledge. Until they do that, there will be no peace and stability in Lesotho,” said Kabelo Adoro, a worker in one of the textile factories in Maseru.

The Maseru Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Theko-mmoho Business Association also joined the call for a nationwide stayaway.

But the stayaway did not achieve its goal of forcing the government to the negotiating table.

“The case of the alliance between the LCD and NIP has long been resolved. The matter was decided by the Court of Appeal, said Mothejoa Metsing, government spokesperson and minister of communications, science and technology. “So there is no way that government can discuss a matter that has been decided by courts of law. That would be contemptuous. The leaders of the five protesting parties know this. They are just misleading the public.”

In the meantime, the opposition has appealed to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for assistance, but so far the SADC has made no statement.

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