- Metsing warns Thabane against “undemocratic move” to indefinitely suspend august house
LESOTHO Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing has warned Prime Minister Thomas Thabane against repeating the “grave mistake” of indefinitely suspending parliament, saying the move would be a violation of democratic tenets and could trigger mass protests against the government.
Mr Metsing’s comments follow the indefinite suspension of parliament on 1 April 2019 amid widespread speculation that the move is aimed at starving off a possible vote of no confidence against Dr Thabane while creating time for him to resolve the smouldering power struggle within his All Basotho Convention.
It had been anticipated that the motion to adjourn the sittings of the National Assembly would be debated and brought to a vote after it was tabled in parliament on 28 March this year by the Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, in his capacity as Leader of the House.
Dr Thabane’s ABC and Mr Moleleki’s AD are in a governing coalition with Communications minister Thesele ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
However, the coalition which was formed in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 snap elections is in danger of collapse because of the relentless power struggle in the ABC which began after its highly contested leadership elections on 1 and 2 February this year.
Professor Nqosa Mahao romped to victory in the contest for the deputy leader’s post after brushing aside party heavyweights like Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, Public Works and Transport Minister Prince Maliehe and outgoing chairperson Motlohi Maliehe.
The victory puts Prof Mahao in the driving seat to succeed Dr Thabane when he eventually leaves office. However, Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC’s election has been rejected by the old NEC. The latter insists it cannot allow a “newcomer” to usurp power in a party founded by its members 13 years ago in 2006. The outcome of the ABC’s NEC elections has also been challenged in court by ABC cabinet ministers, Habofanoe Lehana (Local Government and Chieftainship), Keketso Sello (Mining) and ABC legislator, Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe constituency).
The trio want the court to nullify the outcome of the 1-2 February 2019 NEC elections on the grounds that they were marred by vote rigging and order fresh polls within three months.
But recent moves by the ABC’s pro-Mahao legislator for the Mosalemane constituency, Samuel Rapapa, to push for the amendment of parliamentary Standing Order Number 111 to enable legislators to vote in secret on a motion of no confidence against a sitting prime minister are said to have thrown the pro-Thabane camp and the ABC’s governing allies into a state of panic.
Some government and ABC sources told this publication that the motion to indefinitely adjourn the sittings of the National Assembly was a direct response to Mr Rapapa’s motion, which despite the latter’s repeated denials, is seen by Dr Thabane’s loyalists as part of an elaborate move by the new NEC to get rid of Dr Thabane because of his apparent support for the old NEC. Mr Rapapa is the incoming chair in the new NEC.
Fully aware of the alleged plot to oust him, sources within the ABC said that Dr Thabane moved to indefinitely adjourn parliament and give his ailing party a chance to deal with its internal conflict and avert a split and collapse of the coalition government.
Against all expectations, the motion for the indefinite closure of parliament which was filed on 28 March by Mr Moleleki was not debated and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Teboho Lehloenya, simply announced that the National Assembly had been adjourned indefinitely in line with the National Assembly’s standing orders.
According to Standing Order #18, the speaker or his deputy is allowed to indefinitely suspend the sittings of the National Assembly if at the official time of the closing of parliament, a motion has not been debated or voted on.
The move triggered howls of protests from the pro-Mahao faction of the ABC and the opposition including Mr Metsing who recently warned Dr Thabane that his administration had committed a grave mistake akin to the one that Mr Metsing alleges that Dr Thabane made when he prorogued parliament during his first tenure as premier in 2014.
Back in 2014, Dr Thabane whose ABC was in a coalition with Mr Metsing’s LCD and the BNP, prorogued parliament to dodge the no confidence motion against him.
Mr Metsing said while it was not unusual for parliament to be closed during the Easter break as this had happened before, “this time the closure is happening at a time when the nation is worried and scared”.
“The nation is wondering if this is normal and whether it will lead us to the similar situation that happened in 2014 when parliament was prorogued. At that time parliament was suspended for months. We are closely monitoring this current closure of parliament to see what will eventually happen,” Mr Metsing said in an interview with a local radio station.
He said it would be very unfortunate if parliament was not reopened soon because when it was similarly closed in 2014 that plunged the country into a crisis which precipitated the snap elections of 2015 which ousted the Thabane administration.
“If we have a respectful and loving government then we will not repeat mistakes of the past knowing fully how they threw this country into a serious crisis. Suspending the national assembly would be a clear indication that the country is being administered by a dictatorial government and the government is no longer drawing its mandate from the people.
“We know that closing parliament is meant to suspend democracy and to suspend a democratic government. It was the same Honourable Prime Minister (Thabane) who was in charge when the parliament was closed for months (in 2014) and I hope that he realised the serious crisis that he put Lesotho under.
“At that time it was only a minority group of congress supporters who said that the move was wrong. Today it is not only the congress people speaking against it, Basotho now know the importance of not meddling with parliament. They know that meddling with the parliament is violating people’s rights.
“Even political parties in government are clear on this one, they do not want the government to meddle with parliament. Government would have committed a grave mistake if it can take that route and I don’t think that Basotho will agree with it. It will result in mass protests of people demanding the reopening of parliament.”
Mr Metsing also criticised the government’s decision to suspend the April session of the Court of Appeal, saying the apex court was one of the pillars of democracy and it should be allowed to function.
“Basotho are worried by what is happening in the judiciary. When this issue started rearing its ugly head, the opposition said it was worried by the politicisation of the judiciary. Even the appointments of the Acting Chief Justice (‘Maseforo Mahase) and Court of Appeal president (Justice Kananelo Mosito) were not handled professionally and we said their appointments were politically motivated.”
The Court of Appeal was supposed to begin its April session on Monday 15 April but the Acting Registrar of the High Court Pontšo Phafoli said that it was suspended due to lack of funds.
However, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Mokhele Moletsane refuted Ms Phafoli’s claims that it was suspended due to lack of funds for its operations.
Mr Moletsane said he was “shocked” by the suspension of the apex court session.
Although he did not know why it was suspended, he said there was no way this could have been due to lack of funds as the judiciary had been awarded the full M97 731 217 that it requested from the national budget to fund its operations.
He added that Ms Phafoli and other officers in the judiciary called a press conference recently to announce the suspension without his knowledge.
Commenting on this development, Mr Metsing said it was not true that the judiciary does not have funds because it had been allocated funds for the 2019/20 financial year.
“What surprises me is that even ministers are not agreeing on this issue (suspension of the apex court session) and it shows that even the government does not agree on the matter. The international community is looking at us and saying Lesotho’s government is only surviving by the spirit of God because the government itself is not united on this matter.
“This is the kind of government we have- shameless and without dignity or direction. We are knocking on the hearts of the Honourable Prime Minister and his colleagues to protect the image of this country. It is no longer the political image but rather that of the government and this is above politics. Please open the Court of Appeal,” he said.