LocalNews

Thabane must go now…

  •  demands political parties as they vow to push no confidence motion, 

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane risks being booted out of office unceremoniously instead of leaving via a “dignified exit” brokered by South Africa.

This after ABC deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao and his main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) counterpart, Motlalentoa Letsosa, accused South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoy to Lesotho, Jeff Radebe, of failing to enforce their demands that Mr Thabane should have relinquished power within days of Mr Radebe’s visit last weekend.

Prof Mahao and Mr Letsosa’s remarks on Friday mean Mr Thabane will now certainly face a no confidence motion when the National Assembly re-opens tomorrow. Parliament is re-opening after the Constitutional Court (CC) ruled that Mr Thabane’s prorogation of Parliament from 20 March to 19 June 2020 was illegal.

 

As soon as the Senate, which had already opened Tuesday 21 April 2020, approves a constitutional amendment bill clipping the prime minister’s powers to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections whenever they lose a no confidence vote, the National Assembly, will move to oust Mr Thabane, according to Prof Mahao and Mr Letsosa.  That could all happen this week at the earliest or later next week despite Mr Thabane’s own declaration that he will only leave office at a time of his own choosing either late July 2020 – as per his earlier promise – or any other date thereafter.

Mr Thabane, the embattled ABC leader who has since been disowned by his own party’s national executive committee (NEC), railed against his opponents soon after Mr Radebe’s visit, reminding them that his term of office is valid until 2022 and he would not be stampeded into retiring.

A communique issued last Monday (20 April 2020) by Mr Radebe following his meetings with Mr Thabane, political parties, churches and civic organisations, said all stakeholders had agreed that Mr Thabane should be allowed to retire from office with “dignity, grace and security”.

It also states that the governing coalition remains fully committed to the current coalition agreement of the four ruling parties, namely the ABC, Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

“The coalition government of the Kingdom of Lesotho commits to effecting the implementation process or modalities for the dignified, graceful and secure retirement of the Honourable Prime Minister (Mr Thabane),” the communique signed by Mr Radebe and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki states.

“The coalition government of Lesotho reaffirms its commitment to the current agreement of the four parties, namely the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).”

The communique does not give a timeframe for Mr Thabane’s departure. Mr Radebe had nonetheless said during his end of visit press conference that parliamentary processes to ensure the smooth transition from Mr Thabane to his successor should begin immediately.

But Prof Mahao and Mr Letsosa had no kind words for Mr Radebe over his “misleading communique”.

They said his communique omitted several issues raised by the political parties, mainly the demand that Mr Thabane should relinquish power within days. That means Mr Thabane should already have left office by now.

 

They insisted the ABC, DC and other parties would forge ahead with their plans to form a new coalition government which excludes Mr Thabane.

The ABC/DC recently inked a deal to form a new government which will incorporate two of Mr Thabane’s existing coalition partners, the BNP and the RCL. It is also supported by Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane’s Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).  At least 34 of the ABC’s 52 MPs have endorsed the deal.  The main opposition DC’s 26 seats, the BNP’s five, the PFD’s three and the RCL’s one, guarantees the proposed new coalition 69 seats, surpassing the 61 required to form a new government.

Prof Mahao and Mr Letsosa vowed the parties would proceed with their agreement.  This means there is now no chance that Mr Thabane will exit office with “dignity, grace and security” as per Mr Radebe’s communique unless he retires immediately.

In fact, Prof Mahao said if Mr Radebe had listened to the political parties, that currently hold sway, and done his work properly, Mr Thabane would have quit by now and saved himself from unceremonious ouster.

Prof Mahao said although the political parties had extensively briefed Mr Radebe about their concerns, the latter’s communique hardly captured their positions. They had made it clear Mr Thabane should relinquish power within days of the meeting with Mr Radebe last Sunday.  Prof Mahao said they also aired their displeasure with Mr Thabane’s decision to unleash armed soldiers into the streets of Maseru as well as his attempts to delay the inevitable by trying to form a new coalition with Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Movement for Economic Change (MEC). None of these concerns were captured in Mr Radebe’s communique, Pro Mahao complained.

“That (communique) belongs to Radebe and Moleleki,” Prof Mahao told the Sunday Express on Friday.

“The political parties were not privy to that communique. We do not know it. We were not consulted about it. As the ABC, we have struck a partnership with DC and other parties that will be joining us and that has not changed.

“We met with Mr Radebe prior to his meeting with the government where we outlined our issues and the way we see things going forward from where we are. Eighty percent of the things we said are not there in the communique and therefore we assume that the deal was between two governments (South Africa and Lesotho) and not among political parties.”

He took issue with the communique’s reference to a “commitment” to the current coalition agreement, insisting there was no such vow as two parties in the coalition had endorsed a new deal to form a new government without Mr Thabane.

Mr Letsosa concurred with Prof Mahao saying the DC’s deal with the ABC remained intact and it would be brought to parliament this week.

Mr Letsosa said “our (DC and ABC) agreement remains strong…It will  play itself out in parliament.”

The only way for Mr Thabane to thus avoid an unceremonious exit via a no confidence motion is by quitting now.  His opponents insist they cannot wait for his July 2020 promised retirement as the country can no more afford to have him in office.

The Senate opened last Tuesday, a day after Mr Radebe’s communique was issued. The Senate plans to debate and vote on the constitutional amendment bill (Number 9) this Tuesday. If the bill passes, it will leave the Prime Minister with no leg to stand on. It will clip his powers to order the dissolution of parliament, within three days of losing a vote of no confidence, and order fresh elections. Lesotho’s prime ministers have wantonly used that power to dissolve parliament – when their tenures are threatened – resulting in the country incurring three snap elections in the last seven years.

The amendment bill is likely to pass in the Senate, regardless of any intense lobbying by Mr Thabane and his allies.  Some of the prime minister’s fiercest critics reside in the 33-member Senate. For instance, the well-respected and influential Chief Khoabane Theko has essentially branded Mr Thabane a fool for relinquishing state power to his garrulous young wife, ‘Maesaiah.

Chief Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, young brother to reigning King Letsie III, has already signalled he would vote for the bill, saying “we are preparing for good governance which will benefit all Basotho”.

Twenty-two chiefs seat in the Senate. Lebohang Hlaele, the secretary-general of the ABC- and Mr Thabane’s son-in law- who was fired as a minister in February 2019 – and has led the party’s entire charge against the prime minister also sits in the Senate.  He will ensure the vote for the constitutional amendment bill goes no other way.  Mr Hlaele is married to Mr Thabane’s daughter ‘Mabatsoeneng, a lawyer who has been very critical of his father for among other things marrying a “murderer”.

Mr Ramaphosa dispatched Mr Radebe to Lesotho in the aftermath of Mr Thabane’s deployment of heavily armed soldiers around Maseru on Saturday 18 April 2020 to deal with political rivals he accused of destabilising his government.

The deployment came a day after Mr Thabane had lost a string of court cases.  The Constitutional Court declared his prorogation of parliament illegal.  The High Court outlawed his umpteenth attempt to suspend Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli.

Mr Thabane had then announced in a televised address that he had deployed the army “to deal” with his opponents whom he said were trying to use the courts to dislodge him from power.

The deployment had raised fierce of a repeat of the bloody and anarchic events of August 2014 when the army attempted to overthrow Mr Thabane’s first government.

Police Commissioner Molibeli has since disclosed that the army had been ordered to arrest him. Conflict between the army and police was only averted after army commander   Mojalefa Letsoela defied Mr Thabane’s order to detain the police top brass.  The army commander had then mediated a deal in which the man appointed by Mr Thabane to act as police commissioner, Sera Makharilele, once Mr Molibeli was in army custody, was discouraged from assuming the post.

Prof Mahao and Mr Letsosa are aggrieved that Mr Radebe and the South African government did not specifically condemn the illegal army deployment. Various legal analysts have spoken out against the deployment. They have affirmed that none of the circumstances permitted in the constitution for army deployment prevailed to justify the premier’s actions.

A defiant Mr Thabane told the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times newspaper last week that he remained the lawful leader of the country and would not be stampeded into quitting.  He would leave power at his own volition. He said his retirement date was a matter for him and his family. He would not be pushed out of office by people “that I don’t report to”.

But it seems Mr Thabane’s unceremonious exit from power is now inevitable unless he voluntarily quits immediately.

It has also emerged that Mr Thabane had been trying hard to push South Africa to help him achieve immunity from all prosecution after he leaves office. However, the plea has found no takers as no one once to interfere in the prerogative of the courts to determine criminal matters.

The Prime Minister is facing charges that he masterminded the June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo, from whom he was already estranged, to pave way for his current young wife, ‘Maesaiah, to assume the reigns of First Lady. The courts had ruled that Lipolelo was the rightful First Lady before she met her grisly fate two days before Mr Thabane was inaugurated for his second stint as premier.

 

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