Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane is satisfied his country’s national elections will go ahead quite peacefully next Saturday, after a regional summit in Pretoria bolstered security arrangements.
Thabane said the gathering of leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had confirmed the decision by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa that the Lesotho army should be confined to barracks during the elections.
“That was our main concern,” he said on the phone yesterday as he was about to cross the border back to Maseru. “But I’m satisfied now that Cyril Ramaphosa has confined them to barracks.
“If that happens, we will have a free and fair election.”
The SADC leaders also agreed to boost the number of regional police personnel in Lesotho to 475, and appealed to SADC member states to provide extra officers to deploy immediately.
Ramaphosa is President Jacob Zuma’s representative as mediator for SADC in the negotiations among the Lesotho politicians to try to resolve a political crisis that erupted on August 30 in a brief coup which forced Thabane to flee to South Africa.
Thabane said the SADC summit in Pretoria on Friday had backed Ramaphosa’s various political and security decisions, including the decision to confine the army to barracks for the duration of the elections and beyond.
That meant that “there will be consequences” if the army does not obey the order to stay in barracks, Thabane said, though he could not specify what those would be.
Thabane has had an ongoing problem with the army. Its chief at the time, General Tlali Kamoli, mounted the brief coup against Thabane. Under a security accord brokered by Ramaphosa last year, Kamoli, the officer Thabane appointed to replace him, and the police commissioner (who was loyal to Thabane) were sent abroad on diplomatic missions to get them out of the country until after the elections, which have been brought forward from 2017 to this Saturday.
The change in the election date is an effort to resolve the political crisis which erupted when Thabane’s main coalition partner, Mothetjoa Metsing, switched to the opposition, threatening to unseat Thabane.
Thabane had complained to Ramaphosa earlier this month, however, that Lesotho still wasn’t secure enough for elections, citing a recent shootout between soldiers and his bodyguards. He also reported that the new army chief, who was appointed after Ramaphosa’s intervention, was also not taking orders from the civilian government. Ramaphosa went to Lesotho again, after that, and secured the agreement to confine the soldiers to barracks.
Friday’s summit, which Zuma hosted, was designed to lend regional authority to the deals that Ramaphosa has brokered.
It was attended by the current SADC chairman, Robert Mugabe, as well as Namibian President Hage Geingob, Botswana Vice-President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Malawi’s Foreign Minister George Chaponda, and its Minister of Foreign Affairs and SADC Executive Secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax.
The summit noted that the SADC Election Advisory Council (Seac) had visited Lesotho and “confirmed that the political atmosphere and security situation are conducive to hold elections as scheduled.”
The leaders also noted that SADC’s Electoral Observer Mission (Seom) to Lesotho had been launched on Wednesday.
In its communiqué the summit confirmed that South Africa, Zimbabwean and Namibian security forces deployed to Lesotho to protect the government after the August 30 coup would remain there until March 31.
And it said that police forces from other SADC countries would be deployed immediately to Lesotho to help the local police secure ballot papers and voting stations during the elections, remaining there until March 5.
The leaders asked Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the DRC and Tanzania to provide more police for this purpose.
Asked about the troubling behaviour of the Lesotho army, Zuma said after the summit that Ramaphosa had dealt with this by confining them to barracks.
SADC would send about 475 police officers from different countries to help Lesotho police take care of the elections.
The Lesotho defence force would only be called in if that became necessary. But they would, in any event, play a role in distributing ballot papers in remote mountainous areas.
Mugabe said the remaining underlying security problems which the Lesotho politicians had raised would be dealt with later.