27 May 2013

Lesotho Must Increase Citizen Participation


Despite widely praised elections in 2012, the Lesotho parliament must repeal laws that restrict citizens' participation in political processes and pass new legislation to consolidate the country's impressive democratic credentials, said a new report issued today by the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP).

Entitled 'Lesotho - Political Participation and Democracy', the 108-page report praises the country for its recent record of political stability and highlights the fact that the incumbent peacefully relinquished power in 2012 - 'a rarity in current-day political contestation on the African continent'.

However, the report also pinpoints a number of critical challenges, particularly the lack of political will to ensure that decentralization is fully implemented at the local level.

This, it says, continues to restrict the political space for effective engagement by ordinary citizens.

The report calls on the government to support effective decentralization by allocating the necessary resources to local councils to ensure they have the capacity to carry out their legal mandate, and by granting them the autonomy to provide citizens with the opportunity to fully participate in local affairs.

"Lesotho is an emerging democracy that - unlike many African 'democracies' - can point to years of political stability and the peaceful transition of power through the ballot box," said Ozias Tungwarara, Director of AfriMAP.

"However, Lesotho must now consolidate its impressive track record by giving all citizens more of a voice, developing its institutions, and promoting more transparent and accountable government."

Written by Motlamelle Anthony Kapa, Head of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the National University of Lesotho, the report warns the authorities not to miss the opportunity to repeal the Public Procession Act, which restricts citizens' right of freedom of association, as enshrined in numerous regional and continental treaties and standards.

The study also urges the government to prioritise an Access to Information law, which would contribute significantly to the development of a more credible and open government.

The issue of limited access to the state owned media by opposition politicians is another major issue that the report highlights. Routinely denying opposition figures access to state media - apart from during elections when they are granted limited exposure - ensures that there is no level playing field and no conducive environment for debate or the discussion of divergent views.

Therefore, the report calls upon the government to transform the state broadcaster into a public broadcaster that will serve the interests of all Basotho rather than just the ruling elite.

The unprecedented study squarely places the onus on parliamentarians to do more to open up the political process and promote public participation. For example, the report calls on MPs to invite, and assist, citizens to contribute during budget preparations.

It also urges parliamentarians to pass the Human Rights Commission Bill to establish the much-needed institution, which will help to promote and protect the fundamental rights of all Basotho.

The study, which is the first of three major reports on Lesotho to be released by AfriMAP and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), focuses on nine thematic areas - Lesotho's constitutional framework; equal citizenship; policy processes; elections; political parties; the legislature; local government; traditional authorities; and development assistance.


Lesotho - Political Participation and Democracy

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