LEGISLATORS from across the political divide joined forces in yet another rare show of unity to unanimously vote for constitutional amendment bill to strip the prime minister of his arbitrary powers to dissolve parliament.
The bill seeks to amend the constitution to stop any unpopular prime minister from unilaterally advising the King to dissolve parliament whenever his power is threatened. It was first proposed as a motion by opposition Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, in October 2019.
A prime minster who loses a no confidence vote will now be forced to resign within three days following the no confidence vote. He will no longer have the option of advising King Letsie III to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections after losing the no confidence vote.
The motion was brought to parliament at the height of the infighting in Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) party. Legislators loyal to ABC deputy leader had filed a no confidence motion against Dr Thabane and secured the support of the entire opposition except for the Mothetjoa Metsing-led Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).
“We would have reduced the absolute power that the prime ministers have to call for snap elections every time they feel threatened by a motion of no confidence),” Adv Rakuoane said.
“Avoiding elections every two years would help government save hundreds of millions that are spent on elections. In the past seven years, we have gone for two snap elections and the third one is looming. But that would not easily be the case if the prime minister would be required to get two thirds of the parliamentarians to vote with him (for the dissolution of parliament and the calling of snap elections),” said Adv Rakuoane.
He said whenever a prime minister failed to garner a two thirds majority for his bid to dissolve parliament, then parliament live out its full five-year term. The government would then save the millions spent in paying off loans and other benefits of public officials whose contracts are prematurely terminated whenever there is a change of government.
The bill aims to strip the prime minister of his powers to unilaterally prorogue parliament without the backing of two thirds of the country’s 120 legislators.
It also seeks to amend the constitution to allow legislators to be appointed to act in place of the prime minister whenever the latter is absent. Currently, only the deputy prime minister or cabinet ministers can act in place of the prime minister.
Overall, the bill is aimed at reducing the chances of a prime minister calling for snap elections whenever there was a successful no confidence vote against their government.
When it is passed, the bill will curtail Dr Thabane and his successors’ powers to advise King Letsie III to dissolve parliament in the event of a successful no confidence vote.
On Thursday, 93 out of 120 members of the national assembly vote in favour of the bill. This is a resounding 78 percent of all the legislators indicating overwhelming support for the bill from the governing parties and opposition.
It remains for the bill to pass through senate before it is eventually sent to the king to assent to it.