Lesotho News Online (8) - 10/04/98



4 October 1998

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Lesotho to hold re-elections within 15 to 18 months

By Bethuel Thai

A breakthrough has been at least reached to the Lesothoís two months political impasse that has ruined the countryís capital town of Maseru to ashes through spontaneous arson and looting.

The trouble started steadily when the opposition declined to acknowledge defeat in the May 23 general elections claiming there has been some rigging. The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), formed in August last year as a break away party in parliament from the then ruling Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), had won with a landslide all but one of the 80 contested parliament seats, with the highest margin of 5:1 to the next contestant.

The main opposition, the Basotho National Party (BNP) had won one constituency.

An alliance of three main opposition parties; the BNP, the BCP and the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), which were later joined by five small other opposition parties, filed lawsuits in the courts against the election results but lost all the cases as the courts said there was no proof of fraud.

After failing to convince the courts of law, the opposition alliance took the appeal to the people. A series of protest demonstrations were mounted with some calls for national stay away. While the stay away calls partly succeeded, the most powerful blowto the government of Lesotho came on August 4 as thousands of protesters demonstrated even to the violation of the police time limit of six hours in the permission.

At the end of the time limit, the protesters, who went to petition King Letsie III to dissolve parliament and its government and form an interim government of national unity as well as calling for fresh elections, decided they will not leave the palace gates until the king had spoken and declared that he had dissolved the government.

Since then, they mounted continuous night vigils outside the Royal Palace at the gates. Several attempts by the police and the army to disperse them, even by using live ammunition, failed. In the long protest, five protesters died and 35 seriously injured while three police officers died.

In this protracted struggle which seemed eternal, meanwhile instabilising the whole country, the South African Development Community (SADC) intervened by establishing a commission of inquiry into the fraud and irregularities alleged by the opposition parties during general elections.

Though happy with the SADC intervention, the opposition refused to disperse from the palace gates, arguing they were awaiting the commission report and implementation of whatever would be its recommendations. In the meantime they were organising stay away strikes, confiscating government property claiming they were saving it from those who stole the government, referring to the ruling party.

The destabilisation programme succeeded. The parliament and the state radio were abruptly closed down. The whole cabinet and the prime minister abandoned their public offices. The row then extended into the civil service and the security forces. Many civil servants stopped going to work and joined the demonstrators at the palace gate.

Junior officers in the army, said to be sympathetic to the protesters, dismissed 28 senior officers and forced the general commander, Lieutenant General Makhula Mosakeng, to resign.

Crime escalated in town. Protesters confiscated all the government vehicles seen in town and packed them outside the palace. The junior police refused to take orders saying they feared to take action because the army was sympathetic to the protesters. The government eventually collapsed and SADC smelled a possible military coup, hence they sent troops to disarm the Lesotho army before results of the commission were publicly announced.

Follows is the chronicle of the events since election day:

* May 23 - The Kingdom holds general elections. The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) registers a landslide victory, winning all but one of the 80 parliamentary seats contested for.

* After the announcement of the results, five opposition parties led by the BNP, the BCP and the MFP, dispute the outcome of the elections alleging widespread rigging and unparalelled irregularities. The LCD cabinet swears it will only be removed from power by voters after a five-year term. The opposition file cases in courts but loose them all.

* August 3 - Election documents found abandoned at the Mohokare River and police mount investigations until to date. Independent Electoral Commission expresses a surprise as to how the documents went out of office. However, the discovery strengthened the opposition claim of fraud as they said something was being hidden by the IEC and the government by throwing away evidence.

* August 4 - Supporters of the opposition parties stage a march protest to the Palace. They then occupy Kingís Palace grounds at the gate calling for the monarch to dissolve parliament and form an interim government of national unity as well as calling for fresh clean elections.

* After some weeks of night vigil at the palace gate, the opposition parties succeed in getting a court order calling for the election results to be audited. The opposition produce its audit report revealing irregularities, but claim in the report that most of the information they wanted was missing at the IEC offices.

* August 8 - As tension grows, King Letsie, who has been reluctant to address the protesters, either negatively or positively, is asked to address the nation and call on the crowd camped at the palace gates to disperse. He reads the statement written by the government but ëforgetsí the part where he should call on the crowd to disperse from the palace gates. Instead he appeals for more constitutional powers to be able to deal with such situations. Meanwhile protesters continue their night vigil.

* August 10 - Opposition call for a successful stay away in Maseru. No government office is opened. No business is operating and no public transport. Even ministers stay at homes.

* August 13 - Lesotho army fails to disperse protesters at the Palace gates despite use of tear gas.

* August 14 - Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe are asked to appoint a team to audit the results. A team consisting of four South Africans, three Zimbabweans and three Batswana is appointed under the chairmanship of Justice Pius Langa of South Africa.

* August 17 - Tension between the ruling party and the opposition mounts. Some ambushes are mounted in the country. The police try to remove protesters by the force of gun. The death toll rise to five while 15 protesters are seriously injured.

* August 21 - Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili announces publicly that he will ask the King to dissolve the parliament and government if irregularities are discovered by the ongoing investigations by the Langa Commission.

* August 24 - Prime Minister Mosisili tells a gathering of LCD supporters to accept the results of the Langa Commission. But as opposed to his earlier statement that he would resign immediately if irregularities are discovered, he tells his supporters that only discovery of fraud and ëby his by his party,í will warrant the resignation of his cabinet.

* Parliament amends the Electoral Order to allow Langa Commission to examine election documents and ballot papers as well as to do recounting of votes cast.

* August 26 - Langa Commission releases an interim report confirming irregularities and say elections are 98 percent fraught. It recommends that election be declared null and void and that there should be re-elections. The ruling party rejects the interim report and say it is not acceptable. The report is held back from public consumption by South African Deputy president Thabo Mbeki who was chairing the meeting of the presentation f the report.

* August 31 - Langa Commission discovers disgusting irregularities after examining and re-counting of ballot papers in three days. South African students and soldiers assist in re-counting. Among others, empty envelopes and unsealed envelopes are discovered. Announced election results and registered voters fail to match. IEC claims there were an arithmetical errors in the counting. All errors were giving the ruling party more numbers that it deserved in all constituencies.

* Government tells a press conference in Maseru that only the word ìfraudî from the Langa Report can force it to resign not mere irregularities because no elections in the world are free of some irregularities.

* September 3 - Heavily armed police attack protesters with the aim of removing them from the palace gates during the night. Protesters resisted by throwing stones at the police. Four protesters are killed, making it ten in all, and 53 injured, 9 seriously. A gun shot comes from the protesters and one police officer is killed.

* The army officers on guard at the palace come to the rescue of the protesters and three more police officers are killed one the spot.

* September 10 - A meeting between the opposition parties and the ruling party fails to take place under the chairmanship of Thabo Mbeki as the government protests the release of Langa Report. Mr Mbeki returns to South Africa without releasing the report as the government argues that it must be discussed first by leaders of SADC, especially President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Jaquim Chissano of Mocambique and Nelson Mandela. The government say it has no security and fears the repercussions and anger of the public against them after hearing the report saying there were ëserious irregularitiesí.

* September 11 - Junior officers in the Lesotho Defense Force arrest 29 of their top seniors including the army commander, Lt. General Makhula Mosakeng. The commander is coerced to announce that he has fired 28 others and that he has resigned over the national radio.

* September 13 - SADC heads of states meet in Mauritius and decide the Langa Report should be released to Basotho after the opposition refused the invitation to Mauritius to discuss the report. Five leaders, Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Festus Mogae, Jaquim Chissano and Pakalitha Mosisili, meet in a secret meeting and rumour in the region has it that they were doctoring the Langa Report to minimise its wording against the government of Lesotho.

* After allegedly being doctored the confused report is sent back to Lesotho to be released.

* September 17 - Langa Commission Report is released in Maseru by South African Police and Safety Minister, Sydney Mufamadi. While acknowledging the occurrence of irregularities, the report does not show outright fraud nor does it dispute that there is a fraud. The report is however kept secret to the public until the parties had agreed on the way forward.

* The opposition parties agree with the report that because of the seriousness of irregularities, the act which tantamount to double fraud, it is not easy to detect any validity or invalidity of the disputed election results. Meanwhile, political tensioncontinues to mount even affecting the army and the police. Both rival parties, that is government and opposition, believe to have the report on their side as the report is confused and noncommittal.

* The rule of law continues to deteriorate as open lawlessness and signs of anarchy become the order of the day. Demonstrators ask people to support their protest by staying at homes. A threat is issued that those who come to work must do it at their ownrisk. People stay at homes. Protesters hijack government vehicles. The state radio is forced to close. Protesters claim they safe public property from the thieves, referring to the LCD ministers.

* The government is paralysed. Fears of military take over heighten as the government loses more and more support from the; from the workers especially civil servants, the business community and armed forces. The media describe the situation as a ìsilent coup.î The opposition deny there is a coup but admit the government has collapsed.

* September 22 - The South African National Defense Force (SANDF) rolls into Lesotho capital Maseru at 5 am to pop up the LCD government at the invitation of Prime Minister Mosisili who says his life and those of his cabinet ministers are in danger. Palace is surrounded by SA armoured cars with muzzles pointed directly at the door of the palace. Palace guards are shot at and arrested.

* The SANDF unexpectedly come across tough resistance from the Lesotho Defense Force at Makoanyane Barracks. SANDF records eight casualties on the first day while Lesotho records two at the barracks, one civilian and a sick soldier who could not run away. Basotho take exception at the ëinvading forcesí and respond with arson and looting. Police fail to disperse looters and instead join the mayhem as police vans load looted items to the homes of the police officers.

* September 23 - Botswana defense forces join the SANDF. Looting is still going on and the foreign forces join the looting spree as they load items into their armoured vehicles and take them to South Africa.

* Majority of Lesotho army officers surrender to the foreign forces and those arrested are taken to South Africa. Dusk to down curfew is imposed.

* The Makoanyane army hospital is ransacked by SANDF. Equipment and some items are stolen. Dormitories are ransacked. Weapons, clothes and money are stolen belonging to those soldiers who ran away and those arrested.

* September 24 - Opposition parties abhor the South African invasion of Lesotho as an uncalled for imperialistís action to hide its lessons of election fraud.

* Looting and burning extends to the outside districts of Mafeteng and Mohaleís Hoek. Protesters in Maseru show posters to the SANDF demanding their withdrawal from Lesotho.

* September 26 - About 1260 soldiers report to the Lesotho army headquarters at Ha Ratjomose Barracks, responding to the roll call by the army commander, Lt General Makhula Mosakeng under the command of the South African force. 195 soldiers who had been arrested and locked in a kitchen hall since September 22 are released to join those who have surrendered.

* South African defense force commander, Borries Borman, orders every soldier to report back on Monday September 28, in light-weight uniform and surrender all their weapons to the SA army.

* September 27 - Thousands of Maseru residents clean the town at the call of Maseru City Council. Their reaction differ towards the presence of the SADC forces as some jeer at them in the streets while some wave happily at them.

* September 28 - Lesotho soldiers surrender their weapons to the SANDF. Lesotho soldiers ordered not to ever wear a combat uniform in the presence of SA soldiers. SA soldiers ransack the Lesotho defense force armoury at Makoanyane. Some weapons are taken or stolen to South Africa. Searches are mounted in the streets of Maseru and licensed guns are confiscated by the SANDF without being recorded.

* South Africa strengthens its military presence in Lesotho by putting 50 more armoured cars. Opposition supporters resume their protest outside the palace. The Botswana defense forces are on guard at the palace gate denying those inside the palace to goout and those outside to go in. Except on their strict terms of conditions.

* October 1 - Zimbabwe considers sending a contingent of police to Lesotho.

* Opposition against the presence of SANDF in Lesotho is mounting as Christians oppose it. About 800 mothers demonstrate in Maseru against the invasion and rape carried out by the SANDF soldiers. They claim that three young girls have been raped by SANDF soldiers at Ha Leqele village near Makoanyane Barracks. Concerned mothers also express a concern over an incident which they cited, where seven SANDF soldiers attempted to rape a wife at gun point in the presence of her husband. The SANDF denies the charges but promises to make investigations.

* October 2 - South African minister for Police and Safety, Sydney Mufamadi chair a meeting between the government and the opposition on behalf of SADC to now officially release the Langa Report. At the end of a 12-hour meeting at the UN House in Maseru, the rival parties agree that irregularities warrant re-elections. They agree there will be re-elections within 15 to 18 months. No exact date.

* October 5 - A meeting goes on still under the chairmanship of SADC on the way forward to the election period and peace creation in Lesotho. Two suggestions are on the table; a coalition government and that the ruling party should hold on until after elections. Both parties pledge they will make sure that is peace in the country. Negotiations still going on.... .

The fact that the administration of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost complete authority over the government apparatus to the extend of appealing for foreign military intervention is an acknowledgment of the fact that it has lost the ability to govern and that by itself is an admission that the legitimacy of its mandate has fallen to such a degree that Lesotho has become ungovernable.

And if it continues to rule one wonders as for how long the SADC forces will stay in Lesotho to pop up the government. Only an interim coalition government can bring a lasting remedy to the Lesothoís political problems.


From: (Africa_news Network) Date: Sun, 04 Oct 1998 15:12:55 +0200 Subject: LESOTHO NEWS ONLINE - SPECIAL Message-ID: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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