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Reduce ABC’s leader’s powers: Analysts

Pascalinah Kabi

THE power struggle in the All Basotho Convention pitting the newly elected national executive committee (NEC) and the outgoing committee would not have happened if the ABC had a more democratic constitution which does not vest too much power in the hands of the leader, Thomas Thabane, analysts have said.

The analysts further say that party constitutions should not be crafted to give leaders too much power as this can only lead to the creation of the personality cult of the great leader — a syndrome which spawned dictatorship, corruption and ultimately impeded the growth of democracy in many African countries.

A month ago on 1 and 2 February, ABC members went to the polls and elected National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao and several other new faces into the party’s NEC.

Prof Nqosa Mahao clinched the deputy leader’s post after beating a strong field of candidates who included Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, former acting incumbent, Public Works and Transport minister Prince Maliehe and former party chairperson Motlohi Maliehe.

Lebohang Hlaele, the-then Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs wrestled the secretary general’s post from the former incumbent Samonyane Ntsekele.

In the chairperson’s election, Mosalemane constituency legislator Samuel Rapapa beat Senator Kemiso Mosenene, Defence and National Security minister Tefo Mapesela, Lithoteng legislator Lehlohonolo Moramotse and Maliepetsana legislator Mpalipali Molefe.

The rest of the new NEC line-up is as follows: Chalane Phori (deputy chairperson), Nkaku Kabi (deputy secretary general), Tlali Mohapi (treasurer), Likhapha Masupha (secretary), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and ‘Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson).

However, Prof Mahao and the rest of the winners have not been able to take up their positions as the old NEC have refused to hand over power citing irregularities in the 1 and 2 February party polls. The situation has been further complicated by the 11 February High Court lawsuit that was filed by ministers Habofanoe Lehana (Trade and Industry), Keketso Sello (Mining) and the ABC’s legislator for the Rothe constituency, Mohapi Mohapinyane.

The trio were recently granted an interim order barring the new NEC from assuming the office until the main application seeking the nullification of their election is finalised.

In addition to nullifying the outcome of the 1 and 2 February polls, the trio want the High Court to order fresh polls within three months of the finalisation of their court application.

The impasse is threatening to split the ruling party right down the middle and even collapse the government as several legislators said to be aligned to Prof Mahao are mulling a fight back.

Among other things the disgruntled Mahao supporters are courting fellow coalition government legislators to vote against Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s budget speech, when parliament reconvenes next month.

If successful, the rejection of the budget speech would cripple the government as it would not be able to withdraw money for operations from the consolidated fund without parliamentary approval.

One of the ABC officials said that Dr Thabane had to accept the new NEC and work with it or risk being embarrassed in the national assembly.

“They are doing everything they can to frustrate us and we are fighting back. The government needs an approved budget to operationalise their policies and rejecting the budget speech will force them to accept us,” the legislator said.

And this impasse and its potential ramifications could have been avoided had the ABC had a more democratic constitution which does not centralise power in the leader’s hands, the analysts say.

The analysts say that the outgoing NEC was emboldened in its resolve to cling to power and not to hand over the reins to the incoming NEC by the mere fact that they have the all-powerful party leader Dr Thabane on their side.

Section K of the ABC constitution states that “the founding leader of the ABC will have an honour of being a life president and he will consult with party leadership structures where necessary”.

One analyst who spoke to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity said such clauses enabled the ABC leader to ride roughshod over the democratic choice of the majority of ABC members by refusing to endorse the NEC which they voted in.

“He (Dr Thabane) initially accepted the outcome of the 1 and 2 February polls saying they reflected the will of the majority of ABC members and that is what democracy is all about. But the old NEC is refusing to hand over power, safe in the knowledge that they have Dr Thabane in their corner. The party constitution gives the leader too much power to interfere with democratic outcomes.

“There was a recent situation when the Court of Appeal struck down a clause in the ABC constitution that stated that party members automatically expel themselves from the party by taking the party to court. The ABC should also repeal this clause which makes Dr Thabane the all-powerful founding leader. This will enable the party to avoid damaging situations which could lead to splits,” the analyst said.

Another analyst Lira Theko said leaders needed to understand that even if they were in the forefront of founding a party, political parties were not just about the “whims and caprices of the leader”.

“The ABC, like all other political parties, is an organisation made of different members attracted by the founding principles and vision of such organisations.

“Being the founder of a party does not make it your personal belonging but rather an organisation belonging to subscribing members of the party.

“But history tells us a totally different story in African politics. Founders of political parties are given so much power that there is a perception that those political parties are their own personal belongings,” Mr Theko said.

He said the Lesotho political landscape had set bad precedents where constitutions of the different political parties were enacted in such a way that leaders remain untouched while the entire national executive committee is subjected to elections as happened in the case if the ABC.

“This gives the impression that the leader is the rightful owner of the party. Secondly, constitutions of different political parties are enacted in such way that leaders are made to be the untouchables and this is one of the biggest challenges facing our political parties in Lesotho.”

Another political analyst, Khosi Makubakube, said that the problems affecting the ABC and other political politics could be traced back to their time of their formation.

Mr Makubakube said at the inception stage of the party, founding members normally depend on the resources of the founding leader and in exchange for such resources, constitutions are enacted in a way that the leaders are given unlimited powers to run the party as they please.

He said the unlimited powers bestowed on the leader by the constitutions have indirectly given leaders rights to turn political parties into their personal properties.

He said it there was therefore need for critical thought process to guide the formation of parties and their objectives.

“Critical thinking provides an opportunity to come up with a vision. It also enables the implementation of strategies to manage risks. But in the absence of critical thinking, we don’t even calculate the risks (posed by all-powerful leaders) nor see them because we don’t even anticipate that they will be there.

“It is an established culture that anyone who challenges, or advises the leader is considered an enemy of the party and we have therefore implanted a belief in our leaders that they cannot be challenged in anyway whatsoever.

“We have also created a culture where the leader is greater than the party and every friend of the leader also feels that they are greater than the party as well and this has been a trend in the Basotho Congress Party (that was led by Ntsu Mokhehle), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (that was led by Pakalitha Mosisili and later, Mothetjoa Metsing) and the ABC as well,” Mr Makubakube said.

On his part, National University of Lesotho (NUL) political science lecturer Mohlomi Mahlelebe said it was important to understand that all political parties were centred around the personalities of the founding leaders who were given too much power.

“For instance, when Ntate Mosisili formed the DC, the DC came to be identified with him. The DC and Ntate Mosisili were one and the same thing and this goes for Ntate Thabane and the ABC.

“The issue of concentrating powers in the leader has a direct contribution to the internal disputes in the party. This leads to an autocratic system of rule and that is why there is instability in such organisations.

“We need to change the mentality of politicians and ensure that members of the parties are more involved in the internal processes of determining what direction they want their party to take. People continue to feel like intruders in their own political parties because supporters are denied an opportunity to contribute towards the policy direction of their parties,” Mr Mahlelebe said.

He said the instability of a ruling party ultimately bred instability at a national level and should therefore be nipped in the bud.

“There is a relationship between intra-party instability and national instability because a political party forms the government.  So, if the political party that is in government has squabbles and conflicts, that will definitely lead to some sort of instability or conflicts in government. Just yesterday, the DC experienced internal strife resulting in the (previous) coalition government collapsing.” The DC was the main partner in the former seven parties’ coalition that was led by Dr Mosisili.

He said, similarly the ABC infighting was worrying and it had sent shockwaves around the country.

“Basotho are worried that the infighting in the ABC can affect the stability of government because instability in a party can extend to instability in the government, especially if the political party is the biggest in coalition government.”

The ABC is the largest party in the governing coalition which also comprises of the Alliance of Democrats, the Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

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