End of the road for Thabane

  • as ABC gives premier until end of this week to resign or face ouster
  • move comes after Senate approved law to curtail PM’s powers to dissolve parliament…!!! 

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE All Basotho Convention (ABC) has given Prime Minister Thomas Thabane until this Saturday to resign or face an embarrassing no confidence vote next week.

This after the Senate overwhelmingly approved a landmark constitutional amendment bill clipping a prime minister’s powers to dissolve parliament and order fresh elections whenever they lose a no confidence vote.

ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa told the Lesotho Times yesterday that it was now the end of road for the embattled premier who has until the end of this week to quit or face a no confidence vote.

“Thabane has failed this country,” declared Mr Masoetsa.

“He (Thabane) must just leave now…If he does not leave, a motion of no confidence will be filed on Monday (5 May 2020) or soon thereafter…. There is no hiding place for him now. If he wants to leave disgracefully through a no confidence vote, that is well and good…It’s his choice.”

The ABC and the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) have crafted a deal to form a new government to replace Mr Thabane. It’s supported by a majority of ABC MPs and other smaller opposition parties.

DC deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa, said the prime minister must now leave to enable the formation of the new government without any further delays.

“It’s evident that he (Mr Thabane) has to go as he has run out of options. Dissolving parliament is no longer an option for him. If he doesn’t step down voluntarily, we will use the new law to make him leave. He ought to have long gone if he really wanted a graceful and dignified exit,” said Mr Letsosa.

The prime minister suffered another blow when the national assembly this week spurned his attempts to achieve a six months state of emergency fearing to give him a leeway to use the security agencies to cling to power.

The landmark constitutional amendment bill, which now only awaits the formality of King Letsie III’s signature to become law, was initiated by opposition Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Lekhetho Rakuoane. It eliminates a constitutional loophole that has been exploited by prime ministers to avoid their ouster within Parliament without ordering fresh elections.  The loophole has seen the country holding three costly elections in the past seven years.

A prime minster who loses a no confidence vote will now be forced to resign within three days of such a loss. They will no longer have the option of advising King Letsie III to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections unless that decision is backed by a two thirds majority of the National Assembly’s 120 members.

The bill has also amended Section 83 of the constitution to strip the prime minister of his powers to unilaterally prorogue parliament without the backing of two thirds of the 120 legislators.

It has also amended Section 90 to enable legislators to be appointed to act in place of the prime minister whenever the latter is absent. Currently, only the deputy prime minister or cabinet ministers can act in place of the prime minister.

The amendment bill was first proposed by Adv Rakuoane in October 2019. It was overwhelmingly approved by the National Assembly on 12 March 2020 with 93 out of the 120 members voting in its favour.

A week later on 20 March 2020, Mr Thabane unilaterally “prorogued” parliament until 19 June 2020 citing the need to stop large gatherings as part of the fight against the coronavirus (Covid-19). The premier’s critics accused him of seeking to thwart the bill’s progress. The prorogation effectively stopped the Senate from debating and voting on the bill.

However, on 17 April 2020, the Constitutional Court nullified the prorogation on the grounds that it was not procedurally done. This after the ABC, DC, Basotho National Party (BNP) and several individual MPs and a senator petitioned the courts to nullify the prorogation. The Senate reconvened four days later on April 21 2020 and debated the bill before approving it Tuesday.

It was overwhelmingly approved by 24 of the Senate’s 33 members despite spirited opposition by Alliance of Democrats (AD) Senator Tsukutlane Au.

Mr Au, who is also the Public Service minister, wanted the bill amended to replace the current requirement of a simple majority for passage of a no confidence vote against a sitting premier with a two thirds majority.

His proposal was shot down by several fellow senators including Chief ’Makholu Moshoeshoe, Chief Lesaoana Peete and Chief Khoabane Theko who argued that an amendment could not be tabled after the Senate had already adopted a report on any bill by its legislative committee.

The argument had nonetheless prompted the president of the Senate, ’Mamonaheng Mokitimi, to briefly adjourn proceedings for consultations with members of the table over the impasse. The table consists of the clerk of the Senate, Selete Molete, and his assistants.

About 25 minutes later, Ms Mokitimi reconvened the Senate and announced that Mr Au’s proposed amendment could not be accepted because the Senate had already adopted its legislative committee’s report.

A visibly irate Mr Au said he “was disappointed” because Mr Mokitimi had earlier given him false hope that his amendment would be adopted.

It is not clear why Mr Au suddenly wanted to tighten the rules of no confidence motions. His AD party has been accused of seeking to protect Mr Thabane from ouster to protect its own interests. AD leader and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki is said to be fighting in Mr Thabane’s corner only because a premature collapse of the government before June 2020 would prevent him from qualifying for his pension. Mr Moleleki has been deputy prime minister since June 2017 when the current governing coalition came to power. He will only be eligible for his pension in June 2020 after serving three years in his post.  In fact, it has been claimed Mr Moleleki was partly instrumental in the original illegal prorogation of because he was only interested in achieving that purpose.

Still among 24 of the 33 senators, who voted for the bill, were the AD’s deputy leader Professor Ntoi Rapapa.  ABC secretary general and Mr Thabane’s son in law, Lebohang Hlaele, supported the bill alongside other ABC senators, Mphonyane Lebesa, ’Mafumane Sebatane and Kemiso Mosenene.

The outspoken Chief Khoabane Theko, who has branded Mr Thabane a fool, and Chief Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, King Letsie III’s young brother, also voted for the bill. Chief Theko had already publicly expressed support for the bill, saying this would save the country from going for costly elections whenever governments collapsed due to no confidence votes.

Last Wednesday Chief Seeiso who, sits on the senate’s legislative committee, told the Lesotho Times that the constitutional amendment bill “could not have come at a more opportune time because we can’t always afford to go to elections each time government is troubled and loses a no confidence vote”.

“Our economy cannot afford that. It is high time that the King is protected from politicians who always run to him (for fresh polls) whenever anything goes wrong in their administrations,” said Chief Seeiso.

Senator Mokoto Hloaele and fellow senators, Chiefs ’Mamolapo Majara, Mojela Makhaola Pontšo Mathealira and ’Makholu Moshoeshoe are among the few who abstained from voting.

Although Chief Seeiso had emphasized that the bill was not aimed at any particular prime minister, it seems pretty much clear that the current drive to oust Mr Thabane gave it much impetus.

Unless he quits voluntarily, it is difficult to see how Mr Thabane can now avoid the ignominy of a no confidence vote. The premier had promised to go end of July 2020. His enemies insist the country can no more afford him for that long. They have sharpened daggers and the passing of the bill has certainly emboldened them.

It is not clear whether Mr Thabane will heed the ultimatum.  Efforts to get him or his spokesman failed yesterday. But last week, the premier told the Lesotho Times he would not be stampeded into quitting and will leave power only at his volition.

Meanwhile government sources last night told this publication that Mr Moleleki and some senior government officials travelled to South Africa to brief President Ramaphosa on the latest political developments in Lesotho. The Lesotho delegation was made of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Lesego Makgothi, Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Habofanoe Lehana and Attorney General Haae Phoofolo.