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Thabane moves to suspend parliament

  • calls for urgent ABC parliamentary caucus meeting
  • moves seen as desperate bid to starve off no confidence vote

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Thomas Thabane administration will tomorrow move a motion to indefinitely adjourn the sittings of the national assembly. The move is widely seen as a desperate attempt by the premier and his governing colleagues to starve off a possible vote of no confidence by disgruntled All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislators.

The move is also seen as desperate bid to buy the ABC more time to resolve its fierce power struggle which not only threatens to split the party but also bring down the almost two-year-old government.

The notice of the motion to indefinitely adjourn parliament was tabled in parliament on Thursday and it will be debated tomorrow after being moved by 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 along 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 faces the biggest threat to its survival as the main party, the ABC is caught up in a vicious power struggle which began after its highly disputed 1-2 February 2019 national executive committee (NEC) elections.

National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor 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 the outgoing chairperson Motlohi Maliehe.

The victory puts Prof Mahao who only joined the ABC in 2015 in the driving seat to succeed Dr Thabane when he eventually leaves office. However, Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC has not gone down well with the old NEC who say they cannot allow a newcomer to usurp power in the party they founded almost 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 NEC elections on the grounds that they were marred by vote rigging and order fresh polls within three months of their application.

But recent moves by the ABC’s pro-Mahao legislator for the Mosalemane constituency, Samuel Rapapa, to push for the amendment of the parliamentary Standing Order Number 111 to enable legislators to vote in secret on a motion of no confidence against a sitting prime minister is said to have thrown the pro-Thabane camp in the ABC and its governing allies into a state of panic.

Some government sources told this publication that tomorrow’s motion to indefinitely adjourn the sittings of the national assembly is a direct response to the Mr Rapapa-sponsored motion, which despite the latter’s repeated denials, is seen by Dr Thabane’s loyalists as part of an elaborate move by the new ABC’s NEC to get rid of Dr Thabane because of his apparent support for the old NEC in its power struggle with the new NEC. Mr Rapapa is the incoming chair in the new NEC.

The notice of motion which was filed on Thursday by Mr Moleleki states that “notice (is) given on Thursday 28 March 2019 for Monday 1 April 2019…that this honourable house do now adjourn sine die (indefinitely)”.

If the motion is successfully moved tomorrow, the national assembly will be adjourned indefinitely and Mr Rapapa’s motion for the amendment of the standing order to allow parliamentarians to vote in secret when a vote of no confidence motion has been moved against the Prime Minister will not be put to vote.

In its present form, the standing order is silent on the method of voting. The 1 March 2017 vote of no confidence against the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was done in the open.

Fully aware of the alleged plot to oust him, sources within the ABC have said that Dr Thabane has moved to indefinitely adjourn the parliament and give his ailing party a chance to deal with its internal conflict and avert a split and collapse of government.

Attempts to get a comment from the ABC were not successful as the mobile phone of the outgoing secretary general, Samonyane Ntsekele, rang unanswered.

But one of the pro-Thabane party sources yesterday said that, “the pressure is mounting on the leader (Dr Thabane) and his camp”.

“They can see that the Mahao camp has a solid plan to oust him (Dr Thabane) and he has decided to adjourn the parliament sine die.

“We understand that the opposition is sympathising with them and they might vote with them should all these motions be tabled in parliament and they may ultimately succeed in their plans for a vote of no confidence motion against Lekhoakhoa (Dr Thabane). So, we don’t want to leave anything to chance, hence the motion to adjourn parliament indefinitely,” the source said.

Another source said the adjournment of parliament would give them enough time to negotiate with the new NEC to drop their support for Prof Mahao for the sake of the unity of the party.

“We don’t have a problem handing over power to the NEC as long as Mahao is not part of it and we hope that we will use this time to convince our comrades that Mahao has to go because he did not follow all the steps for him to contest for elections. He was dumped on us by the courts,” the source said, adding that “their first plan is to have an ABC parliamentary caucus with Ntate Thabane on Monday (tomorrow) after the sitting of the parliament”.

The secretary of the ABC parliamentary caucus, Lekhetho Mosito, confirmed that Dr Thabane had instructed him to call a caucus meeting for tomorrow in his capacity as the caucus secretary. Mr Mosito did not say what the meeting would discuss.

“It is true that the ABC will hold its parliamentary caucus on Monday (tomorrow). It is also true that the leader instructed me to call the caucus. I am the secretary of that caucus and he called me in that capacity and not because we have a special relationship,” said Mr Mosito who is also the Member of Parliament for the Likhetlane constituency.

The Sunday Express has also established the pro-Mahao ABC legislators held two caucus meetings of their own on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Wednesday meeting discussed their vote for the appropriation bill which was passed on that same day to approve the proposed 2019/20 national budget while the Thursday meeting was to plan a fight back against the looming adjournment of parliament.

Contrary to their earlier position, the pro-Mahao MPs voted for the approval of the budget because according to one “it would have been political suicide which would have cost them the support of ABC followers to vote against the budget”.

It remains to be seen how the pro-Mahao MPs will respond to tomorrow’s attempts to indefinitely adjourn parliament.

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