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ABC MP defects to AD

… as nine others intend to follow suit in anger over failure to land cabinet posts,
…but ABC digs in and vows to stand with new cabinet…,

Marafaele Mohloboli/Ntsebeng Motsoeli

ALL Basotho Convention (ABC)’s Bobatsi constituency legislator, Sello Mooki, has defected to the Monyane Moleleki-led opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) amid indications that more MPs could also ditch the fractious ruling party.

Mr Mooki crossed the floor in parliament on Friday amid raucous applause by exhilarated AD MPs including the party’s secretary general Mahali Phamotse, spokesperson Thuso Litjobo and women’s league president ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli.

In a brief interview with the Sunday Express, Mr Mooki said he jumped ship after he was overlooked for a cabinet post by new Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro. He said he was one of ABC MPs who were unhappy that they were overlooked for cabinet posts “which given to members of the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress for Lesotho (RCL) to cabinet ahead of ABC MPs”.

Authoritative ABC sources say at least nine others are also planning to jump ship as anger continues to boil in the ABC over Dr Majoro’s decision to appoint members of the BNP and RCL to cabinet ahead of ABC MPs. But despite all this ABC spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, says there is no going back on last month’s appointment of BNP and RCL leaders to cabinet.

“The decision to include the BNP and RCL leaders in cabinet was made by the ABC’s NEC and the majority of the ABC MPs and it stands whether the disgruntled MPs are happy or not. Their disgruntlement is neither here nor there,” Mr Masoetsa told the Sunday Express this week.

The BNP and RCL are traditional allies of the ABC after having been part of the first Thomas Thabane government from 2012 to 2015. The leaders of the two parties went into exile with Mr Thabane when he fled Lesotho after his ouster in the February 2015 elections fearing death from lawless soldiers. They subsequently all returned and joined the second Thabane coalition after the ABC won the June 2017 polls. After the ABC ousted Thabane last month and replaced him with Dr Majoro, the RCL and BNP leaders retained their positions in the third ABC led coalition.

BNP leader Thesele Maseribane retained his post as Communications, Science and Technology minister while his party deputy, Machesetsa Mofomobe, was moved from his previous post of deputy Home Affairs minister to deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations. RCL leader Keketso Rantšo retained her Labour and Employment portfolio. There was also space in Dr Majoro’s cabinet for some members of other smaller parties backing the new coalition anchored by the ABC and the Democratic Congress (DC).

But some ABC MPs are unhappy about being left out. The legislators say they find it hard to accept that despite working for former premier Thomas Thabane’s ouster and despite winning constituency seats in the last elections, there was no place for them in Dr Majoro’s cabinet. They say they cannot stomach the fact that leaders of the BNP and the RCL who failed to win a single constituency seat in June 2017 had been appointed.

The ABC MPs’ grievances were first raised just a week after the 20 May 2020 installation of the new coalition government.

The ABC’s NEC even called a caucus meeting with all its MPs in a bid to pacify the disgruntled ones.

ABC spokesperson, Mr Masoetsa, had described that meeting as cordial in an interview with the Lesotho Times soon after it was held. He said all MPs and party officials present had agreed to bury the hatchet and work together to strengthen the party.

But Mr Mooki’s defection and the threat of more defections suggest that the ABC has not solved its problems.
“We have legislators who could have been appointed as ministers instead of BNP and RCL members,” one of the MPs told the Sunday Express this week on condition of anonymity.
“We have been left in the cold in our own administration and we feel that this is unfair. Ntate Mooki’s defection is the first of more that could occur in the coming weeks. At least nine more MPs could be leaving for the AD.”

Mr Mooki is a long-standing ABC stalwart who has served as legislator since 2015.

Some of the MPs who are said to be planning to jump ship are Litšoane Litšoane (Bela-Bela constituency), Tšoeu Molise (Tšoana-Makhulo), Thabang Mafojane (Motimposo), Mokherane Tsatsanyane (Stadium Area), Fako Moshoeshoe (Khubetsoana), Chalane Phori (Qoaling), Leshoboro Mohlajoa (Malimong), Samonyane Ntsekele (Tsikoane) and Temeki Tšolo (Mafeteng).
Mr Masoetsa said he had heard rumours that more of the party’s MPs were planning to ditch the ABC for the AD. He however, said the NEC had not received official communication from any of them.

“I heard that the Stadium Area legislator (Mokherane Tsatsanyane) has been the most vocal on social media, saying that he is going to defect to the Alliance of Democrats (AD) now that Ntate Thabane is no longer prime minister and will also step down as party leader. He (Mr Tsatsanyane) is saying he will not be led by the likes of (ABC secretary general Lebohang) Hlaele…We haven’t received official information from him or any others though,” Mr Masoetsa said.

The ABC spokesperson claimed Mr Tsatsanyane had been behind the abortive plot to stop the approval of the 2020/2021 budget. Mr Masoetsa said Mr Tsatsanyane had claimed in one of his social media posts that 37 ABC MPs had resolved to withhold their vote on the budget to protest their exclusion from cabinet as well as push for 100 percent salary increments. The budget was nonetheless unanimously approved in parliament on Monday.

Mr Masoetsa accused Mr Tsatsanyane and other MPs like Mr Mooki and Tšoeu Molise of disregarding the NEC’s directive for ABC members not to air their grievances on social media.
He said it had been agreed at the NEC’s meeting with the MPs and Dr Majoro that all grievances should be raised through the proper party channels.
“We know about the MPs’ dissatisfaction with what they say is the skewed regional representation in the selection of the cabinet ministers and the main concern is that the Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek districts were sidelined.

“These issues were discussed then in the presence of the prime minister and the case was closed. It was also agreed then that the people should refrain from running to WhatsApp and other social media groups to discuss issues that they are not happy with when such issues can be addressed within the party structures.

“Everyone seemed to agree but we were later surprised when the Tšoana-Makhulo (name….) and Bobatsi (name……..)legislators went on to make audio clips which were not favourable to the party.”

Mr Masoetsa, however, said there was no going back on the decision to include the BNP and RCL in government.

Qoaling legislator and former Small Business, Marketing and Cooperatives Minister Chalane Phori denied that he wanted to jump ship. He, however, said he knew of at least 12 ABC legislators whom he said wanted to defect to AD after being overlooked for cabinet posts “but the matter was being dealt with and talks are ongoing”.

“I don’t think defecting is a wise move as this will ruin the party and we have to do all it takes to save this party otherwise we will lose the 2022 polls,” Mr Phori said.
Mr Tšolo confirmed that there were MPs who wanted to defect but said he had attempted to dissuade them.

“The bone of contention is that no one anticipated that BNP and RCL would be beneficiaries in this new coalition and the doors would be closed on some ABC MPs who have contributed to the growth of this party.

“As for me, I had no reason to question the PM’s decision regarding who he gets to appoint. It is only a few individuals who wanted to defect but this is not a wise move.

“The other issue that did not sit well with other ABC members is that of the Former First Lady (‘Maesaiah Thabane) whose bail has been revoked when her spouse (Mr Thabane) is ailing. The former prime minister’s welfare is our concern but I would never leave ABC for any reason,” said Mr Tšolo who served as Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister during Mr Thabane’s tenure.

Mr Mohlajoa said although he had no plans to leave, he knew for sure that there were MPs who were not happy with the ministerial appointments.

“These appointments could have been given to some of our MPs to help grow the party and garner more support instead of giving them to the BNP and RCL. However, the matter was resolved after we held a meeting with the prime minister (Dr Majoro).”

Mr Moshoeshoe also said although he was aware of the plot to ditch the ABC, he would not leave the party.

Mr Mafojane denied being part of those who wanted to dump the ABC.

“I have heard of the planned defections but I have never been a part of it. My allegiance remains with Ntate Thabane and the ABC. I also fully support Dr Majoro and the NEC. The prime minister (Dr Majoro) has the discretion to appoint whoever he wants as a cabinet minister and I can’t question his decisions,” said Mr Mafojane.
On his part, Mr Ntsekele said he had no intention of defecting.

“It seems there are people who are contemplating defecting to the AD but I am not part of that group whoever they are. I have never even thought about leaving the ABC,” Mr Ntsekele said.
Despite the robust denials by various ABC MPs, a leaked audio clip by Mr Tšolo suggests that some legislators are indeed considering leaving the party.

In that audio, Mr Tšolo is heard telling his colleagues that those who defect would be reduced to political nonentities like several other former ABC stalwarts before them.
“We will kill this party if we defect. It is our life. Politics have its ups and downs. Do not ever think that you have lost significance when you are down.

“Let’s not rush into defecting. That would be as bad as consuming poison. The ABC is an exceptional party and leaving it is a curse. Once you leave, politics will spit you out and you will only see that when you lose elections. Look what happened to the likes of (Lehlohonolo) Tšehlana, (Elia) Mokhanuoi, (Nkhetse) Monyalotsa, (Mophato) Monyake, (Thabiso) Litšiba and many others. They are not even traceable anymore. Let us not let ourselves fall in the same pit.

“Our greatest task is to ensure that Thabane is safe so that he can help us find his successor who will carry this party forward. We need that person to be a strong individual like Thabane but who should also be full of humor. We do not need a gentleman who will even address rallies in English in Tlhanyaku or Qacha’s Nek. We do not need such people. Kobotata (ABC) is party that does not need Englishmen at all. This is a party for Basotho including the poor, the rich, the uneducated and the educated,” Mr Tšolo is heard saying.

Meanwhile, BNP deputy leader Mofomobe has weighed on the cabinet appointments, saying prior to the formation of the new ABC-DC anchored coalition they held a meeting with the ABC leadership which included deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao and secretary general Lebohang Hlaele “who made it clear that they wanted to work with the BNP”.

He said the BNP’s support was crucial in giving the ABC and DC the numbers they needed to oust the Thabane-led four party coalition and form a new government.

He said the ABC initially had only 33 MPs, out of its total tally of 53, supporting a coalition with the DC which has only 26 MPs.

“These would not have been enough to form a new government as they only add up to 59 MPs,” Mr Mofomobe said. The 61 seat threshold required to form a government was only surpassed after the BNP’s five MPs supported the ABC-DC deal. Other ABC MPs had only come on board after the BNP had made the new coalition a reality.

“Those ABC members who were against the whole thing (ABC-DC coalition) are now the very people who are making this noise saying they want us out.

“Their noise is understandable because they clung to Ntate Thabane and his wife (‘Maesaiah) even when it was obvious that things were not going well for them. We know that our sin is standing our ground and pointing out that the former prime minister had misdirected himself when he attempted to prorogue parliament (from 20 March to 19 June 2020). They are also not happy that we called on the former First Lady to return to Lesotho and stand trial for murder in January.

“That is why these people want us out,” Mr Mofomobe told the Sunday Express.

It’s unlikely that more defections will rattle Dr Majoro’s coalition as it appears to be anchored on solid ground with a majority of MPs supporting it.

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