OP-EDs

OP-ED: THABANE MUST FALL ALONE

By Nthakoana Ngatane
For the past seven years Basotho have watched helplessly as two prime ministers abuse the constitution, call for elections and exchange government like it’s their personal property at a price tag of 300-million Maloti each time, but incumbent Tom Thabane, must not be allowed to do it again.

The drafters of the constitution of Lesotho believed that the powers afforded a prime minister would be bestowed on individuals who would use them to safeguard the sovereignty and stability of the country, but it has become clear that those powers are being abused.

In 2012 former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili abused the powers afforded a prime minister to call a snap election. A faction of his then party – Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) – an association that he had joined voluntarily – had lost confidence in him, forcing him to form the Democratic Congress (DC).

The remaining LCD ganged-up with the opposition and Mosisili realised he would lose. Instead of allowing the democracy of numbers to decide, and facing his own loss of popularity, he used state apparatus to fight his personal battle.
He lost that election because his former LCD secretary general Mothetjoa Metsing, who had subsequently taken over as leader, decided to form a coalition with Tom Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Thesele ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP).

The outcome of the 2012 election became exactly what Mosisili detractors in the LCD had wanted – which was for him to fall.
Three years later, in 2015 – Thabane’s coalition government – another voluntary alliance – lost confidence in him. He too abused the powers afforded a prime minister to suspend parliament and avoid a vote of no confidence. Instead of facing the fallout in his coalition he used state apparatus to fight that battle so he called elections two years earlier than scheduled.

But he lost because Metsing and his LCD had thrown their weight behind Mosisili and his DC to form a seven-party coalition – another voluntary alliance. The outcome of that election became exactly what Thabane detractors had wanted – for him to fall.

In 2017 Mosisili faced another split in his DC, as his deputy leader Monyane Moleleki felt betrayed that he wasn’t endorsing him to take over. Moleleki formed the Alliance of Democrats (AD). Metsing – then deputy prime minister, also faced a split in his LCD, and his secretary general Selibe Mochoboroane formed the Movement for Economic Change (MEC).

Instead of facing his own loss of popularity again, Mosisili dragged Basotho and their 300 million Maloti with him, and chose for the second time, to use state apparatus to call for another election three years earlier than scheduled, making it the third election within five years.

Thabane’s ABC, AD, BNP and another LCD breakaway – Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) formed another coalition. Pleased with their victory, that coalition told Basotho that Mosisili could have been patriotic, accepted that he had lost and stepped down, because the outcome of that election became exactly what AD had wanted – for Mosisili to fall.

Once again Basotho paid 300million Maloti to convince one man for the second time that he had lost support.
Thankfully Mosisili decided to retire from politics, but not before costing Basotho more than half a billion in elections bills for selfish means, and for that his legacy will forever be tainted.

It’s exactly two years since Lesotho went to that June 3, 2017 election, and exactly two years since that 2017 coalition told Basotho that Mosisili should have demonstrated patriotism by stepping down and saving the country millions, and once again the prime minister, now Tom Thabane, is facing widely reported internal battles in his ABC.

Thabane knows he no longer has majority support of the national assembly because two weeks ago the house debated the expulsion of an MP of the opposition DC and his rival faction voted with the opposition, and the governing coalition lost the vote. That was a conclusive number test that the coalition doesn’t have majority support of the 120-seat house.

Emboldened by the victory, the faction of Thabane’s ABC that wants him out, backed by the opposition, started talks to file a vote of no confidence in him.
In an attempt to thwart that move, the leader of business in the house and deputy prime minister Moleleki filed a motion for the house to go on winter recess until September.

But an MP of Thabane’s ABC filed a motion of no confidence in the prime minister, making it official after weeks of speculation.
Moleleki realised that his motion for winter recess couldn’t be passed without a vote and Thabane would likely lose it. The loss would mean that the house would remain open for the vote of no confidence, so Moleleki withdrew the winter recess motion, only to file it again without an end date or sine die.

What this means is that the winter recess proposal can be passed without a vote, another abuse of the rules of the national assembly.
The constitution of Lesotho is abundantly clear, that a prime minister is a member of the national assembly who enjoys a simple majority of the 120 MPs or 61 seats of the house – being from their own party or from a coalition of parties.

The back and forth with the motions is a clear in indication that Moleleki is not confident that the government or Thabane will win any of the votes, but he and others who want the prime minister to stay unconstitutionally are willing to allow him to hold on to the power that he has constitutionally lost.
If Thabane stays in power during an indefinite recess or after the no confidence vote, when he no longer enjoys majority support from MPs, he will be an unconstitutional prime minister.

The constitution is also clear that should he lose the no confidence vote he has the prerogative and power to either resign, or to advise the king to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.

The only constitutional mechanism that will give the king the power to refuse the advice to go to elections is if the council of state still believes parliament and government can go on without elections.
Sadly, it is possible that with the new appointments of key positions including the chief justice, attorney general, commander of the army and the chief of police – all of whom make up the state council, Thabane will enjoy some support for his decision however absurd.

Basotho have poured out on social media to say in one voice that going to another election and spending 300million Maloti to convince one man that he indeed has lost democratic and constitutional support, only to get the same outcome, would be madness!

The constitution as the collective power of the citizens of the Lesotho ought to express that if – like Thabene now and Mosisili twice before – an individual has lost democratic and constitutional support, that individual must immediately lose the privilege to exercise constitutional powers afforded someone who still has that support.

The constitutional reforms process that is now delaying was expected to among others express this, but it is nowhere near taking shape.
So it is now time for Basotho – in their numbers – to come out of their comfort zone, stand up, speak up and give direction to the national assembly, the council of state and the king, that – NO ELECTIONS WILL BE HELD IN LESOTHO UNTIL 2022.

If Thabane has lost support of the majority of MP’s in the national assembly he must become a back-bencher, and the other MP’s must elect a Prime Minister who has support, but Thabane cannot fall with Lesotho and Basotho… Thabane must fall alone! NW

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