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Fireworks in parliament as Rakuoane bounces back

Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU — Tempers flared in parliament on Friday as ousted deputy speaker Lekhetho Rakuoane was reinstated amidst fierce objections from the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) party.
Rakuoane was on Thursday forced to vacate his position after the DC queried his continued tenure as deputy speaker after he quit his Proportional Representation seat to another member of his Popular Front Democracy (PFD) party, ’Mamoshe Limema, last month.
The DC argued his continued occupation of the deputy speaker’s chair was in violation of Section 64 (2) of the Constitution which says the deputy speaker shall vacate his office “if having been elected from among members of the National Assembly, he ceases to be a member of the national of the National Assembly otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of parliament”.
But Rakuoane was swiftly voted back into office in spite of fierce opposition from the DC.
Rakuoane’s PDF is backing the coalition government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
The DC currently holds 47 seats while the government made up of Thabane’s All Basotho Convention, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy and the Basotho National Party commands 61 seats.
The government also enjoys the support of a bloc of parties that collectively has nine PR seats.
The DC argued that Speaker of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, was trivialising the situation by refusing to take into account the fact that between Thursday and the time he resigned as MP last month, Rakuoane had presided over parliamentary business when he “had no locus standi”.
DC MPs Rets’elisitsoe Masenyetse, Semano Sekatle and PR MP Lineo Molise-Mabusela argued that Motanyane was pushing for the violation of the Constitution by allowing Rakuoane’s re-election “when he has violated the Constitution”.
“We cannot be seen to be triviliasing a matter as serious as this. I rise to oppose Mr Rakuoane’s election, whether valid or not,” Molise-Mabusela said.
“If you treat this issue lightly when we as members take it seriously, then this is the beginning of the undermining of the Constitution.”
However, BNP MP and Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo told Molise-Mabusela that she should be the last person to talk about violation of the Constitution when “your party formed government in this parliament undermining the same Constitution”.
“This House will not be lectured to by this MP when her party wrongfully formed government in this very House. Mr Speaker, why do they have to teach you about the Constitution when you make a ruling?” Molapo asked.
“The integrity of this House is being brought into disrepute.”
An emotional Masenyetse also shouted and strongly demanded a point of order and when it was granted, wasted no time telling Motanyane that the august House and “the nation have submitted to being governed by the 1993 Constitution”.
“We submitted to the fact that it shall reign supreme and that no Act by any institution shall run counter to the Constitution,” Masenyetse said.
Masenyetse added that Rakuoane had resigned but chose to stay on as deputy speaker thus violating the Constitution “as opposed to defending it”.
“It is Mr Rakuoane’s duty to defend the very same Constitution which he has violated,” Masenyetse said.
The former justice principal secretary also berated Rakuoane for executing duties in the august House “in violation of the Constitution”.
“He has executed duties that he was not supposed to preside over. All activities of this House that he presided over should be invalidated,” Masenyetse said.
“It’s your (Motanyane) responsibility therefore to see to that. All the work that Mr Rakuoane did subsequent to his resignation should be declared null and void.”
Masenyetse also warned Motanyane that as the DC “we will not allow you to turn this House into a circus, Mr Speaker”.
But he quickly withdrew his statement after howls of protest from the government side.
When it was his turn to speak, Motanyane told the house when the issue was raised on Thursday by Masenyetse that “it was fully canvassed for by all”.
Indicating that he objected to the argument raised by the DC MPs Motanyane referred the House to section 81 (2) of the Constitution which states that situations arising during the course of parliament “shall not invalidate its proceedings”.
“Each House of parliament may act not withstanding any vacancy in its membership (including any vacancy not filled when the House first meets after any general election) and the presence or participation of any person not entitled to be present or to participate in the proceedings of the House shall not invalidate those proceedings,” Motanyane said as he read from the Constitution.
But Sekatle would have none of it, telling Motanyane that the section of the Constitution he had read from “is misleading you”.
“This does not deal with the matter at hand. It’s about the presiding officer who conducted the business of the day,” Sekatle said.
“The issue is about Mr Rakuoane who conducted business in this House with no locus standi. You’ve read an irrelevant clause to the issue.”
But Motanyane refused to be swayed, instead telling Sekatle that his decision stood and that if he (Sekatle) wished to oppose it “you know how the Speaker’s rulings are challenged”.
With that the DC MPs downed their weapons, but not before Molise Mabusela said: “Today a dark cloud is hovering over Lesotho”.
Then it was Rakuoane’s turn to be sworn in by the National Assembly Clerk, Fine Maema, after which there was banging of tables in excitement by the government side while the opposition gallery was swallowed in a deathly silence.
In his speech after being in sworn in, Rakuoane expressed gratitude to God and his colleagues who had reinstated him because “you have expressed confidence in me for the second time”.
“I undertake to work hard for the preservation of this country’s stability and further deepening the roots of democracy,” Rakuoane said to howls of disapproval from the opposition benches.
“I will submit myself to the country’s laws and execute my duties accordingly. Thank you very much.”

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