…as PM Matekane’s party is accused of having violated registration laws
Mohalenyane Phakela/Moorosi Tsiane
OUTSPOKEN Democratic Congress (DC) member, Bokang Ramatšella, has launched a bid to collapse the government. This by seeking the deregistration of the Revolution For Prosperity (RFP) from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s register of political parties because the IFP’s constitution does not specify the fees required to be paid by anyone seeking to become a member of the party.
Mr Ramatšella argues that every political party is required to state, in very explicit terms, its membership fees amount in terms of Section 24 of the National Assembly Electoral act. Failure to specify the membership fees, means a party’s constitution is invalid and that party must therefore not be legally registered.
The IFP is the senior partner in the three-party coalition administration led by Prime Minister Sam Metekane. The coalition also includes the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Movement for Economic Change (MEC).
In the event that Mr Ramatšella succeeds in his seemingly long shot application, it means Lesotho would have been ruled by an ‘illegitimate” government since Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s government was catapulted into power after the 7 October 2022 general elections. It would also mean that all decisions taken by the Matekane government since then are a nullity.
In his urgent application lodged in the High Court on Friday, Mr Ramatšella asks the court to force the IEC to scrap the RFP from the IEC’s register of political parties on the grounds that the ruling party was unlawfully registered by the commission in May 2022.
Any party that does not stipulate its membership fees never comes into being, Mr Ramatšella argues.
He therefore claims the IEC overlooked this non-compliance of the RFP with the Electoral Act, which renders the party’s registration a nullity.
If successful, Mr Ramatšella also wants the RFP barred from contesting in the upcoming local government elections pencilled for 29 September 2023.
The deregistration of the RFP could also mean it unlawfully won the October 2022 polls which brought the new party to power, a development which could see the collapse of the government and force by-elections in the 57 constituencies the RFP won.
The IEC and RFP are the two respondents respectively in Mr Ramatšella’s application.
The urgency of Mr Ramatšella’s application must be considered first.
Mr Ramatšella’s lawyer, Advocate Tembo Lesupi, appeared before Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase on Friday and pleaded with the court to hear his client’s case on an urgent basis so it could be finalised before the 29 September elections.
Adv Lesupi argued that the fate of the RFP was a matter of national interest and as a result, the court had to determine Mr Ramatšella’s case before the imminent elections. Dealing with the case after the elections could cause an unnecessary waste of public funds if the RFP was allowed to contest and then get deregistered later, forcing by-elections in all the municipal seats it would have won.
However, RFP lawyer, Adv Motiea Teele (King’s Counsel), counter-argued that Mr Ramatšella should have challenged the RFP’s legitimacy in May 2022 when the IEC approved its registration. The challenge was now too little too late. Adv Teele also submitted that Adv Lesupi did not have proof that the RFP would field candidates in the upcoming elections. He was merely speculating. This, he said, proved Mr Ramatšella’s application was not urgent.
IEC lawyer, Adv Kabelo Letuka, said the electoral body opposed Mr Ramatšella’s application because he had failed to disclose when he discovered the alleged discrepancy in the RFP constitution. This he said deprived the court crucial information that would determine whether his application was urgent and deserved to leapfrog other cases in the long queue of matters before the High Court.
Justice Mahase then ordered Adv Lesupi to file written submissions on Saturday (yesterday) to enable her to determine the urgency of Mr Ramatšella’s application.
In his court papers, Mr Ramatšella states he wrote to the IEC on 27 July 2023 requesting the RFP file. He was subsequently given access to the file. Upon perusal of the file, he claims he discovered the party’s constitution did not stipulate its membership fees, which he argues was contrary to section 24 of the National Assembly Electoral Act.
“I aver that in registering a political party, the first respondent (IEC) should ensure that the party complies with provisions of section 24 of the National Assembly Electoral Act 2011. In terms of the provisions of section 24 of the Electoral Act, the constitution of a political party which intends to register with the commission shall provide for membership fees,” Mr Ramatšella argues.
“Further at section 25 of the Electoral Act, it is provided that an application for registration of a political party shall be accompanied by the prescribed application fee. The section provides further that the commission shall refuse to register a political party that fails to meet the requirements which include provision of membership fees by the constitution of the party.
“I aver that the constitution of the second respondent (RFP) fails to comply with provisions of the Electoral Act in so far as it fails to prescribe for membership fees as mandated by the Act. I aver that the issues of the amount to be paid is so crucial that a receipt is actually needed as proof of payment.
“I aver that the decision of the first respondent therefore, to register the second respondent as a political party despite the constitution failing to comply with mandatory provisions of the law, is irrational and shall be reviewed and set aside.”
Furthermore, Mr Ramatšella argues the RFP’s declaration form illustrating the 500 members who had allegedly joined it to warrant the party’s registration did not indicate how much each of them had paid. The law requires any party seeking registration with the IEC to prove that it has 500 fully paid up members first and state the quantum of their registration fees, according to Mr Ramatšella. He argues that failure to meet that requirement should have disqualified the RFP from being registered in the first place.
Furthermore, Mr Ramatšella argues that the RFP’s registration as a political party was initially approved in May 2022. But in July 2022, the party amended its constitution. That meant that its registration should have been re-started from scratch. That had not happened, meaning the RFP had flouted the law, he argues.
“On 22 July 2022, the second respondent (RFP) communicated to the first respondent (IEC) the decision to repeal its own constitution that was filed when the application for registration was initially made, and to replace it with a new one. I aver that the act of repealing the constitution has the effect of automatic deregistration of a political party. This because repeal of a constitution and production of a new one must trigger the commission to then reconsider the application and see whether it complies with the provisions of the law and then give approval. In the instant matter, the constitution considered for registration was repealed and replaced, no fresh application was made.
“The registration of a political party is conditional upon filing of a constitution, without which the registration cannot succeed. The decision to register the second respondent must therefore be reviewed and set aside.”
Mr Ramatšella contends that some of his DC party’s candidates had been disqualified from the October 2022 general elections due to failure to comply with the Electoral Act. The RFP must therefore not be treated differently.
In September last year, the IEC disqualified the DC’s Morero Lentša and Chepane Mothae, who were set to contest in the Sempe and Mosalemane constituencies respectively, for being serving civil servants at the time they were nominated as candidates. In terms of the law, civil servants are not allowed to contest for political elections.
The deregistration of the RFP, if approved by the courts, in Mr Ramatšella’s seemingly long shot application, would mean the Lesotho government has been run illegally since October 2022 when the newly formed RFP swept to power on the back of widespread discontent by Basotho with the misgovernance of established political parties in power then. That would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis whose resolution would require probably the “wisdom of Solomon”.