A mockery to the constitution

A mockery to the constitution

Conventional wisdom tells us that good political societies are built on the principles of constitutionalism. This entails upholding the rule of law, regular elections and the principle of separation of powers.
I am not a political scientist but a keen political activist who has read a lot of literature on democracy and elections and have concluded that elections perform at least three important democratising functions:

They help the country build and sustain effective democratic institutions

They provide the people with an effective legal tool to constrain and guard the government and minimise impunity

They enhance the ability of the people to change their government and bring into public service new and more energetic and effective political leaders.

Nevertheless, in order for elections to perform these three important functions and do so effectively, these elections must be regular, not infrequent. They must be free and fair. They must be competitive, inclusive, transparent, and credible. By-elections are held to fill vacant electoral seats — for example, if an MP resigns or dies.
This week I wish to deal with the challenge of holding by-elections in five vacant constituencies and several other local councils.

Last week there was a Savingram that was widely discussed on social media which appeared to have been written by the Budget Controller and was directed to the Director of Elections. The purpose of the Savingram was to inform the Director of Elections that the by-elections were not budgeted for in the current 2021/22 financial year, therefore, the country could not hold by-elections in five vacant constituencies and several other local councils.

It is very disturbing that the Budget Controller had the audacity to suggest that the Director of Elections should suspend by-elections and start preparing for the 2022 general elections. I do not know on whose authority the Budget Controller was acting on but please tell her that suspending the by-elections of five vacant constituencies and several other local councils is unconstitutional. Hands off my constitution.

I am of the opinion that the Budget Controller was sent by politicians who are afraid of going for by-elections. The Minister responsible for this Ministry comes from the All Basotho Convention (ABC), a party that has experienced a major split. The ABC is the only party that will benefit from this announcement.

While I understand the ABC’s fear but I wish to caution them that they must take their hands off my constitution. I wish to remind the ABC that they campaigned for the rule of law. In fact they are in government today on the promise of upholding the rule of law. The rule of law is non-negotiable. The constitution would have given exceptions if it was necessary not to hold by-elections in some instances. This simply, is lawlessness.

I wish to pose an honest question to the Budget Controller and all those who sent her: Have you even read the Lesotho Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words vacancy, National Assembly and by-election.
Is the Budget Controller suggesting that our constitution is too expensive to afford? Those who agree with the Budget Controller argue that this country cannot afford by-elections. While I agree that democracy is not cheap but the absence of democratic pillars such as elections is more expensive. It has long-term effects on this country’s development aid and ability to access loans and other funding.

I am shocked that Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro has been silent on this matter. This isn’t just a technicality: The oath of office demands that the Prime Minister should be “faithful and bear true allegiance to the King, his heirs and successors, according to this Constitution and the laws of Lesotho.”
The Prime Minister has been silent when the Budget Controller has been mocking the constitution. It is clear that they (Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Principal Secretary of Finance and Budget Controller) are outright hostile to the underlying philosophy of our constitution. In the interest of judging Majoro’s competence to follow through on the oath of office, here is a short guide to the Constitution and where the Prime Minister Majoro collides with it.

The Constitution is very clear that when a vacancy occurs in the National Assembly, by-elections must be held within 90 days. Almost all the vacancies have gone way beyond the 90-day stipulated time period. There has been no explanation whatsoever from the Prime Minister.
While waiting for the justification for violation of the constitution, we are shocked when the new government spokesperson (who is the Budget Controller) boldly tells us that we should do away with a constitutional obligation.

The Prime Minister must do the right thing. Do what the constitution provides for, it is the right thing to do and is non-negotiable. To disregard the holding of by-elections is a direct violation of the constitution. Basotho are witnessing this slow-motion erosion of the Constitution and wonder, rightly, if the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Principal Secretary of Finance and Budget Controller are ever going to be held accountable.

I acknowledge that the absence of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Commissioners and Director of Elections could have contributed to the delay, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic that has been threatening many of our most cherished freedoms. Nevertheless the budget can never be an excuse for not holding by-elections. Let me conclude by fast forwarding to 2022.

Imagine being told that the country cannot hold General Elections because there is no money. If we accept that by-elections cannot be held because they were not budgeted for in the 2021/22 budget estimates then we must be willing to accept that the 2022 General Elections could also be postponed under the pretence that the government does not have money for elections.

Ramahooana Matlosa

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