(The following article was published Oct. 16 by international news agency AFP.)
Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Lesotho’s parliament is due to reconvene Friday, the first step of a peace deal aimed at resolving weeks of crisis sparked by an attempted military coup.
With security concerns on-going, the 120-member legislature will reconvene four months after Prime Minister Tom Thabane suspended it to dodge a no-confidence vote that would likely have seen him kicked out of power.
“It’s a milestone,” says Tumisang Mosotho, a senior advisor to Thabane. “We want to hope this is the first step in the right direction, in liberating our country from the danger that has surrounded us these past few months.
On August 30 Thabane fled the tiny kingdom, entirely surrounded by South Africa, hours before the military attacked police installations, in what was seen as part of an orchestrated putsch.
Just hours before he had fired Lesotho Defence Force commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who still refuses to relinquish his command.
Thabane returned accompanied by police from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has since hammered out a peace deal among Lesotho’s sparring factions.
Setting out that deal SADC’s chief mediator, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, announced that the parliament would begin preparing fresh elections for February 2015.
Crucially, the opposition agreed not to mount a no-confidence vote against Thabane. Instead, they allowed the parliament to re-open and to pass a budget, then officially dissolve in order for the country to prepare for early elections.
“Without a parliament, there is no democracy,” said Keneuoe Setsabi, a member of the leading opposition party, the Democratic Congress, which welcomed the move.
“We were turning into an autocratic government… Finally, the nation will be able to speak again through our MPs.”
In a sign of the on-going instability, officials have cancelled the military parade that traditionally opens Parliament –- formally observed by Lesotho King Letsie III.
That also dodges the difficult question of who is in charge of the armed forces.
While Kamoli refuses to step down, his replacement has required South African police guards since an attempt on his life was made during the coup.
With two military commanders “in charge”, Friday’s reopening will skip the military parade “to avoid any embarrassment of His Majesty,” as one government official put it.
In another sign of the insecurity, the public will not be permitted to attend the reopening –- and it’s unclear if the diplomatic community will be permitted to go.
“We don’t know what could happen on Friday, so we can’t guarantee security,” said the government official. “You can never be sure in this country.”