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Another blow for Thabane and coalition govt

  • as DC joins ABC, BNP lawsuit against “unlawful” prorogation of parliament

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

IT never rains but pours for beleaguered Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. This after the biggest opposition, the Democratic Congress (DC) announced that it will join the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Dr Thabane’s own All Basotho Convention (ABC) in suing him for the “unlawful” prorogation of parliament.

Addressing the media recently, DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu condemned Dr Thabane’s move to prorogue parliament from 20 March to 19 June 2020, saying the prorogation was unlawful in that it neither had King Letsie III or parliament’s approval.

Mr Mokhothu said Dr Thabane was unnecessary belligerent towards the King by giving His Majesty only two hours to sign the prorogation. Dr Thabane ultimately went ahead and signed the government gazette for the prorogation on his own apparently after he failed to convince the King to sign it on the evening of 20 March.

The three-year-old Thabane-led coalition faces collapse after the BNP- a key member of the coalition — went to court last week to demand Dr Thabane’s ouster. This after he prorogued (suspended) parliament without consulting coalition partners, cabinet, his own party and explicit permission from King Letsie III.

The BNP is a member of the four-party coalition alongside Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

The BNP is a co-applicant in the unprecedented constitutional challenge alongside the National Executive Committee (NEC) of Dr Thabane’s own ruling ABC and several other individual ABC and BNP MPs and a senator.

All in all, there are seven applicants in the case; namely the ABC, the BNP, Nthabiseng Makoae (BNP MP), ‘Matšepo Ramakoae, ‘Matebatso Doti, Lepota Sekola (all ABC MPs) and senator Kemiso Mosenene.

They all accuse Dr Thabane of conniving with another coalition partner, Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki to “unlawfully” prorogue parliament.

Dr Thabane, Dr Moleleki, King Letsie III and the Attorney General Haae Phoofolo are first to fourth respondents respectively.

Even though fellow coalition partner, the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) is not an applicant, BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane states in his supporting affidavit that RCL leader Keketso Rantšo supports the court action. If that is true, since Ms Rantšo did not file her on separate affidavit, it means the coalition of four is now split through the middle. Ms Rantšo remains a key cabinet member despite her disputed leadership of the RCL.

The applicants not only want the Constitutional Court to nullify Dr Thabane’s 20 March 2020 government gazette proroguing parliament. They also want the premier declared unfit to continue in office.

They want the court to rule that “the collusion” of Dr Thabane and Dr Moleleki to prorogue parliament without the unanimous consent of the other coalition partners is “unconstitutional and unlawful”.

They also want the court to declare that Drs Thabane and Moleleki have  put the office of His Majesty King Letsie III into “disrepute and lowered its esteem” This because Dr Thabane proceeded with the prorogation without the King’s explicit consent and after the King had explicitly asked the premier to defer to his colleagues over the matter. Dr Thabane is obliged to consult coalition partners, cabinet and his own political party before recommending the prorogation of Parliament to King Letsie III, the applicants argue.

But more ominously for Dr Thabane, they want the Constitutional Court to declare that “the outgoing Prime Minister is no longer fit and proper to hold the of the prime minister. They seek an order for the King to dismiss Dr Thabane as Prime Minister and appoint his replacement in accordance with the constitution.

The application will be heard on 3 April 2020 by a Constitutional Court bench comprising of Justices Sakoane Sakoane, Moroke Mokhesi and Polo Banyane.

Dr Thabane prorogued parliament from 20 March to 19 June 2020. A government gazette announcing the prorogation is signed by Dr Thabane and not King Letsie III. The applicants deem the move “illegal” as they insist the King should have been the one to sign the prorogation.

Dr Thabane had given King Letsie III a same day ultimatum to sign the prorogation order by 9pm on 20 March 2020, citing the need to stop gatherings to combat Coronavirus. And when the King did not comply, the premier proceeded to sign it on his own. The move has been condemned by the premier’s own party as “treasonous”.

Chief ‘Maseribane accuses Dr Thabane of lying and misleading the King.

He and RCL leader Rantšo had only learnt of the prorogation at a meeting with King Letsie III and Drs Thabane and Moleleki on the very same day (20 March 2020) the premier prorogued parliament.

Now the DC has decided to join the lawsuit against Thabane. Mr Mokhothu said his party had no choice but to sue Dr Thabane for the “unlawful” prorogation because the premier did not even attempt to consult parliamentarians after failing to get the King’s approval for his move.

“We have instructed our lawyer to sue the person who has executed the prorogation. We want the court of law to nullify it,” Mr Mokhothu said.

“The prime minister should have at least passed the proposal to prorogue parliament by the house (national assembly) before effecting it. The process contravened the legal procedure in proroguing parliament and therefore we do not welcome it. What baffles us the most is the fact that he gave His Majesty the King a mere two hours to approve of the prorogation which he went ahead to sign on his own, infringing some of the alternative prorogation procedures.

“We consider the two-hour timeline as an insult and act of hostility by the coalition government. Their behaviour has shocked us. That the highest degree of sallying the office so prestigious as His Majesty’s in political issues.”

Mr Mokhothu said Dr Thabane’s timing for the prorogation was bad because parliament had a lot of issues to attend to including approving the budget estimates for the 2020/21 financial year.

He said the prorogation affected the processes towards the enactment of a constitutional amendment bill to clip the powers of the prime minister to advise the King to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections whenever he loses a no confidence vote. The bill has already been approved by more than two thirds of the national assembly and awaits the senate’s approval before it is eventually sent to the King to sign it into law.

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