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Thabane ‘threatens’ ABC legislators

  • ABC leader allegedly threatens to call for early national elections as pressure mounts on him to resolve power struggles in the ruling party

Pascalinah Kabi

THE much-hyped meeting of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislators and their leader, Thomas Thabane, failed to resolve the infighting within the party, with some party insiders saying Dr Thabane even threatened to call for early elections if the legislators continued to unduly pressure him to resolve the discord within the party.

Dr Thabane who is also Lesotho’s prime minister on Friday met legislators from his party after the parliamentarians petitioned him to urgently address a power struggle which is threatening to split the main party in the governing coalition.

The power struggle pits the recently elected national executive committee (NEC) against the old NEC. Party insiders yesterday told the Sunday Express that Dr Thabane met with ABC legislators and told them it was not their business who administered the party affairs. Dr Thabane is said to have told the legislators to focus on national issues for which they were elected to parliament and he even threatened to call for fresh national polls if some of them continued to pressure him over the infighting.

However, Dr Thabane dismissed as speculation the party sources’ allegations that he had threatened to call for early elections.

“Everything is done step by step and if you are in the media, you watch out for what is happening and then report correctly. Speculation on these issues can be misleading. The talk (about calling for fresh elections) is speculation in the streets and speculation in the streets is always there but I don’t politic in the streets,” Dr Thabane told the Sunday Express yesterday evening.

A power struggle that ensured in the ABC in the aftermath of the party’s 1 and 2 February 2019 NEC elections has so far prevented the new NEC from assuming office.

The old NEC which includes former Samonyane Ntsekele has so far refused to hand over power and two cabinet ministers, Habofanoe Lehana (Trade and Industry) and Keketso Sello (Mining) joined with the ABC’s legislator for the Rothe constituency, Mohapi Mohapinyane, to launch an urgent High Court application to nullify the outcome of the elective conference. Messrs Lehana and Sello contested and lost the party polls for the posts of deputy secretary general and treasurer respectively.

In the deputy leadership contest, the Vice Chancellor of the National University of Lesotho, Professor Nqosa Mahao, prevailed over Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, Public Works and Transport minister Prince Maliehe and former party chairperson, Motlohi Maliehe.

Others who were elected into the new NEC are Lebohang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), 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 his colleagues have not been able to assume office due to resistance from the old NEC as well as the court challenge Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane.

Immediately after the elections, the old NEC refused to hand over the office keys to the new NEC while the trio launched their court action.  Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane have since been granted an interim order barring the new NEC from taking over until after the finalisation of their main application for the nullification of the 1-2 February poll results.

The trio argues that the elections were marred by gross irregularities and as a consequence, they could not have produced a “credible outcome”.

The infighting subsequently intensified with some legislators sympathetic to the new NEC vowing to mobilise the ABC’s coalition partners to vote against the budget speech to be presented to parliament by Dr Majoro when parliament reconvenes this week.

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 revenue fund without parliamentary approval.

The infighting was also reflected in the recent attempt by the old NEC to suspend Mr Hlaele for allegedly fraudulently approving the hiring of K.J. Nthontho Attorneys to represent the ABC in the court application that was filed by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane.

It was against this background that the 21 ABC legislators had written to Dr Thabane requesting him to convene an ABC parliamentary caucus to discuss the infighting and come up with solutions that would avert a paralysing split.

The petition was handed over to Dr Thabane on Tuesday. It was written and signed by the 21 senior party officials that included the ABC parliamentary caucus chairman, Moshoeshoe (Mabote legislator), incoming chairperson Mr Rapapa and the new secretary general Mr Hlaele.

Former Minister of Social Development, ‘Matebatso Doti, former Defence and National Security minister, Sentje Lebona and former Minister of Health, Nyapane Kaya also appended their signatures to the petition.

Other signatories are: Koro-Koro legislator Motebang Koma, Mphosi Nkhasi (Pela-Tšoeu constituency), Selemo Mangobe (Taung), Nto Moakhi (Maliba Matso), Tello Kibane (Peka), Mooki Sello (Bobatsi), Phamotse Molefi (Likhoele), Libe Motsoane (Mphosong), Thabo Sophonea (Thaba-Bosiu), Motlatsi Maqelepo (Berea), Mamoipone Senauoane (Thaba Tseka), Lefu Hlomelang (Makhoroana), Sotlehang Sekhamane (Maputsoe), Mankoe Maime (Maama) and Tlhobohela Mokoma (Mantsonyane).

The legislators pleaded with Dr Thabane to use his powers as the party leader to facilitate a smooth transition of power from the outgoing NEC to the one that was elected early this month.

The petitioners say they were forced to turn to Dr Thabane after numerous failed attempts to hold an ABC parliamentary caucus to discuss the power struggle in the party.

“We as the undersigned members of the parliament and a senator (Mr Hlaele) are asking you to lead the processes of bringing stability to our party which is also the senior party in the coalition government.

“We are asking you to see to it that a new committee elected by ABC members assumes its duties under your leadership. We appeal that the decision by that conference be accepted by everyone,” part of the petition reads.

However, the eagerly anticipated caucus meeting turned out to be damp squib with party insiders saying Dr Thabane sternly warned the legislators against concerning themselves with the administration of the party instead of focusing on issues of national governance for which they were elected into government.

The premier is said to have been miffed by what he saw as the legislators’ attempts to resolve the power struggle in favour of the new NEC and even threatened to advise King Letsie III to dissolve the parliament and call for fresh elections if the party legislators continued pushing him on party issues.

ABC parliamentary caucus chairperson Fako Moshoeshoe was evasive when approached for comment on the outcomes of the Friday meeting.

“The caucus meeting went ahead as scheduled. Our leader (Thabane) attended the meeting and addressed the parliamentarians but that is all I am prepared to say. You must know by now that whatever is discussed in a caucus meeting is confidential and should remain as such,” Mr Moshoeshoe said in an interview with the Sunday Express.

He however, said it was resolved that there would be a follow-up caucus meeting this week on date that he would agree on with Dr Thabane.

On his part, Dr Thabane said “there’s no party in the world that does not have challenges on a progressive basis”.

“What is important is its capacity to solve its problems amicably. There will always be problems in any organisation and the critical thing is does the (ABC) party have the capacity to contain its problems and the answer is yes the ABC has the capacity to contain its problems.”

Asked if that meant the Friday meeting had successfully resolved the power struggle and the new NEC would soon be taking over, Dr Thabane said everything happened “step by step” and the way forward was “something that would be announced by the party and not by me”.

“Everything is done step by step and if you are in the media, you watch out for what is happening and then report accurately. Speculation on these issues can be misleading. The talk (about calling for fresh elections) is speculation in the streets and speculation in the streets is always there but I don’t politic in the streets.

“Also, there are people who will say all sorts of things because they are our political enemies. They are people who have nothing to say about their parties and they will speculate about other parties. But I only concentrate on the party that I lead,” Dr Thabane said.

But party insiders told this publication that the Friday meeting did not even begin to address the legislators’ concerns about the power struggles that are threatening to tear apart the ABC and even bring down the government. Instead, the party sources said that a livid Dr Thabane questioned the manner in which the party parliamentary caucus was called. He is said to have expressed his unhappiness that only 20 legislators petitioned him, suggesting that theirs was not the majority position. The ABC has 53 seats in the national assembly and it cobbled these with those of the Alliance of Democrats, the Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho to gain a wafer-thin majority which allowed it to form a coalition government.

“Nothing was done to address the grievances of the petitioners. There were no serious discussions and what really happened is that the leader (Dr Thabane) merely briefed the legislators on his thinking on the whole issue (of the legislators’ call for the meeting).”

“The mood was very tense between the two sides. Ntate Thabane questioned why the petition was signed by only 20 MPs and said it was absurd that the caucus had to be called through a petition. He further wanted to know why the petition was signed by the 20 MPs only,” a source said.

The source further alleged that Dr Thabane instructed the legislators to discuss the concerns that he had raised among themselves and he left immediately afterwards.

“In a sense he gave us a direction because he said we should think through these issues (of the infighting) and discuss them. He said that we should call him immediately after we have reached an agreement on the way forward.

Another source said that was “serious tension between those that petitioned the leader and those that didn’t”.

“Ntate Thabane refused to mediate between the two groups and instead, it was agreed that there will be another meeting on Wednesday”.

The source further alleged that Dr Thabane asked the caucus to decide whether they wanted to remain legislators or that he should advise King Letsie III to call for fresh national elections.

“Instead of solving this problem, he threatened us with fresh elections while it is clear that we all want is for him to address the leadership problems within the party.

“He said that if we wanted him to go to the King to ask for the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections, we must come out and clearly state that is what we want because he doesn’t have a problem taking that route. I think in a way he was trying to instill fear in the petitioners,” the source said.

Another source said “it is true that our leader asked us to come forward and tell him straight to his face if we want fresh general elections and that he would gladly go to His Majesty to ask him to dissolve parliament”.

“He told us that his advice for us all was that we should not bother ourselves with the party leadership problems and concentrate on the national governance issues because some of us were not going to win back our constituencies if Lesotho was to go for fresh elections.

“You could see that it was more of a threat than advice. He was very tense so much such that the tension spread to us because even after he left, the tension remained among us,” the source added.

Another source said that Dr Thabane preached unity in the party, saying it was not wise for the legislators to be sharply divided on the matter to an extent that the petition was only signed by certain individuals.

The source alleged that Dr Thabane warned that the infighting could lead to fresh elections if not well handled.

“He (Dr Thabane) said that we must get our act together or else he will advise His Majesty to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections,” the source said.

Contacted for comment, the spokesperson of the old ABC NEC, Tefo Mapesela, refused to comment on the allegations raised against Dr Thabane.

“A caucus meeting is held behind closed doors for a reason. If we wanted you or the public to know about what we were talking about, we could have made it a public meeting but it was a closed meeting and anything we discuss in that meeting remains confidential.

“As a journalist, are you seriously asking me to discuss confidential matters with you that were discussed confidentially in a closed caucus meeting? Aren’t you patronising me? I am even surprised that someone has decided to discuss confidential caucus meeting issues with you,” Mr Mapesela said.

The Friday meeting was held after 21 ABC legislators petitioned Dr Thabane, asking him to urgently begin processes to enable the party’s NEC to take full charge of party affairs.

The legislators pleaded with Dr Thabane to use his powers as the party leader to facilitate a smooth transition of power from the outgoing NEC to the one that was elected early this month.

The petitioners said they were forced to turn to Dr Thabane after numerous failed attempts to hold an ABC parliamentary caucus to discuss the power struggle in the party.

The legislators further stated that they are loathe to pay their monthly subscriptions fees under the prevailing circumstances wherein the outgoing committee continues to be in charge of party funds despite being booted out in the polls.

The Sunday Express has since established that the ABC MPs are each expected to pay a M600 monthly subscriptions while ministers and principals secretary pay M1000 and M700 respectively.

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