Narrow your demands

Narrow your demands

A few months back the opposition parties wrong-footed the government by insisting they would not participate in the reforms until their exiled leaders are safely back home. Experienced politicians in the corridors of power instantly knew that meant disaster for the reforms which are probably this government’s most important project.

They knew that without the opposition leaders the reform process would lack the much needed legitimacy and credibility. On that point alone the opposition had the government pressed in a tight corner. Sooner rather than later the government would give in to their demand to pave way for dialogue on the reforms.

It seemed the opposition had political capital and, as one Canadian politician once said, they were expending it on “greater causes” of the country. There was substance in the argument that the reforms be all-inclusive.

But in recent weeks the opposition seems to have lost both the plot and the leverage by coming up with new demands for the participation in the reforms. They say they want the government to reinstate fired secret agents, dismiss the National Security Service (NSS) boss and ask SADC to withdraw its standby force.

In addition they want to be consulted on the Reforms Bill before parliament. Only their demand for further consultation on the Reforms Bill has some weight because it forms the basis of the reform process.

But on the other demands they are on a slippery slope. Who heads the NSS and works for it has no direct bearing on the reforms process. And even if they do, there is no reason to believe they should make it such a big issue that it can sabotage such a national project like the reforms. We are unable to see how the presence of a SADC force here affects the opposition’s participation in the reforms.

This brings us to the unfortunate but logical conclusion that the reforms have become part of the opposition’s political strategy game.
Political capital is not expendable. You can only use it to a certain extent, beyond which you start eroding your leverage. By adding more demands the opposition is showing itself to be insincere, if not utterly dishonest.

The reality is that this government was elected through a legitimate process. The opposition should therefore give the government the space to govern and not be seen to be trying to pull down every proposal, policy decision or appointment.

Some of its decisions might be controversial but that doesn’t mean they are grievous enough to sabotage a national project like the reform process that requires the opposition’s collaboration.

The opposition’s mishmash of demands risks making them appear to be desperate politicians out to sabotage a national project in their quest for political power. The opposition should narrow its demands to key issues, on which they can extract concessions from the government and move on to the reforms.

Perhaps part of the problem with the opposition’s strategy is former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, the face they are using to push their agenda.
Mosisili comes with a lot of baggage. Even when he is raising important points a large section of the public is likely to dismiss him as a bitter loser out to return to the same office in which he spent nearly two decades. A neutral person would not suffer the same characterisation. But the problem goes beyond Mosisili as a compromised messenger. It is about their failure to clearly spell out their message and narrow it to key issues.

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