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Victory for Thabane faction

. . . as court okays GNU indaba,

. . . but this could be a pyrrhic victory as faction doesn’t have numbers to oust Majoro

Pascalinah Kabi

 

ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane and his party’s national executive committee (NEC) have been given the greenlight by the Constitutional Court to go ahead with their proposed meeting with all political parties represented in parliament to discuss the formation of a government of national unity (GNU).

The meeting, to discuss the formation of a GNU to replace the current Moeketsi Majoro-administration, had initially been pencilled in for 15 December 2021 at the AME Hall in Maseru. It had to be aborted after two of Dr Majoro’s ABC loyalists, Keketso Lepheane and Tlali Mohapi, obtained a last-minute interim Constitutional Court order to stop it pending the finalisation of their application to permanently halt it from proceeding because it allegedly violates the constitution.

Messrs Lepheane and Mohapi have another pending constitutional application to stop Mr Thabane and the NEC from recalling Dr Majoro. That application will be heard on 22 December 2021.

The duo had argued that the proposed GNU meeting was “treasonous” as it had been convened to oust the prime minister.

However, the constitutional bench comprising of Justices Molefi Makara, Keketso Moahloli and Fumane Khabo on Thursday issued a final judgement dismissing Messrs Lepheane and Mohapi’s bid to permanently stop the meeting. The bench ruled that their fears that the political parties would engage in treasonous conduct “lacked merit.”

But the ruling could well turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for Mr Thabane and his allies. This after the presiding judge Makara warned them against any treasonous conduct at the GNU meeting. He did not clearly articulate what would amount to treasonous behaviour at the meeting, save to say that the security forces would immediately descend on the parties if they ever engaged in such conduct.

“The ABC is calling all spheres of our political landscape to this meeting in accordance with the exercise of the freedom of association which is now being interfaced with the freedom of expression. Under these premises, the court therefore comes to a decision that the fears entertained by the applicants lack merit,” Justice Makara said.

“Consequently, the court declines to grant the reliefs sought by the applicants and this is indicative that the court sanctions the contemplated conference to go on as scheduled.”

But in a statement that might give the parties a conundrum in their discussions aimed at forming a new government to replace the current one, Justice Makara, said, “the meeting should not risk discussing things which would be unlawful”.

“The court is well aware that treason and sedition are offences which should be handled by our security and safety forces at their very first manifestations. In law, for an offence of sedition or treason to stand, it has to be complemented by a treasonable or seditious act.

“The offence does not just lie in the thinking, it must be reciprocated or completed by the acts which will be of a subversive nature and effect. The court concludes by hoping that the conveners of the meeting would not frolic into such dangerous dimensions. We are tired. What we are desiring, what the nation is desiring is peace, progress, development and enjoyment of our God-ordained human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Justice Makara said.

It remains to be seen how the ABC and the other parties will negotiate this conundrum and refrain from treason and sedition as per Justice Makara’s warning.

The meeting, called for by the ABC’s secretary general Lebohang Hlaele, appears to have been a carefully orchestrated ploy to  remove Dr Majoro by mobilising other parties that have previously demanded a GNU but are not in the current coalition. These include the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Alliance of Democrats (AD). If the Thabane faction were to convene the meeting and garner the support of all or most of the parties represented in parliament to form a GNU peacefully, and without retort to any violence, then that action will be perfectly lawful. But that is a likely tall order as some key parties have rejected the faction’s GNU overtures while others remain undecided. That still renders the Thabane faction’s court victory a pyrrhic one.

The ABC’s NEC voted to recall Dr Majoro on 2 December 2021. It had then resolved to replace him with the now fired cabinet minister and current ABC deputy secretary general, Nkaku Kabi.

But Dr Majoro refused to resign and make way for Mr Kabi. He even taunted his own party, saying only legislators in parliament had the power to propose people for appointment as prime ministers by His Majesty, King Letsie III. Equally, only MPs could remove premiers through a no confidence vote in parliament, he said.

Parliament is currently on its annual Christmas break and even if it was in session, it does not appear that the Thabane faction has enough numbers to remove him if he maintains his rejection of his recall. The GNU effort is meant to overcome that hurdle by enticing parties like the LCD and AD, that have a combined 23 seats, and have previously vociferously supported the idea of a GNU.  But even if the LCD and AD emerge to support the recall, the Thabane faction will likely fall short of the required majority to oust Dr Majoro.

The Democratic Congress (DC), which anchors the current coalition alongside the ABC, has categorically stated its opposition to the GNU. So is Professor Nqosa Mahao’s Basotho Action Party (BAP) which has dismissed the whole GNU idea as a ruse by the Thabane faction to help it win its factional wars at the expense of the national interest.

The DC and BAP have a combined 37 seats. Given that other political parties are still cagey about the idea of a GNU and that some ABC MPs, especially those already serving in Dr Majoro’s cabinet, are unlikely to support his overthrow for fear of losing their plum jobs, it is doubtful that the GNU idea will ever materialize even if the Thabane faction convenes the GNU meeting. With 37 seats of the DC and BAP already supporting Dr Majoro, it will be difficult for the Thabane faction to garner the simple majority to oust Dr Majoro. Under the present constitution, only a simple majority is required to oust a prime minister. But under proposed reforms, a two thirds majority would be required in future to remove the prime minister.

DC deputy leader and Home Affairs Minister, Motlalentoa Letsosa, on Wednesday said his party “has always been opposed to a GNU because we don’t see how it will benefit the country and its people”.

BAP leader, Nqosa Mahao, told a Wednesday press conference that a GNU was not in the best interests of the nation. He said it was a ploy by an ABC faction to lure all political parties into its fold to help it win its internal fight with its rivals for control of the party. Prof Mahao was ABC deputy leader from 2019 until April this year when he jumped ship to form the BAP. He cited a plot by Messrs Thabane, Hlaele and Dr Majoro to oust him from the party. It is therefore understandable that he would prefer to watch his erstwhile rivals tear each other apart than help them resolve their power struggles.

Other parties are also sitting on the fence. In separate interviews with this publication, they said they could only comment on the issue after they have heard the ABC’s proposals regarding what is in store for them should they agree to the GNU arrangement.

In his 13 December 2021 letter inviting the parties to the GNU meeting two days later, Mr Hlaele had said his party “has come to a realisation that the time has come for political parties to put aside our differences and work together to prepare a new Lesotho for the benefit of the entire Basotho nation”.

“Based on the latest developments unfolding in the country, we are inviting political parties in the 10th parliament to meet with us to apply our thoughts on the formation of a new government inclusive of all political parties in parliament, a government that will lead the country to next year’s elections which will be free and transparent, where everyone will be able to freely participate without any hurdles on their way.

“Based on the sensitivity and urgency of this issue, we are inviting you to a meeting on Wednesday 15 December 2021 at AME Hall at 2pm to discuss working details and how best we can run with this issue going forward (sic). We would appreciate your cooperation for the benefit of the development of the country and wellbeing of the entire Basotho nation,” Mr Hlaele said.

The meeting was then halted after Dr Majoro’s allies won an interim interdict against it. But now that the court has given it the greenlight, albeit with the caveat that it should not engage in treason, Lesotho is assured of more political drama.

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