“I will leave office on my own terms and a time of my own choosing”, declares premier despite mounting pressure for him to quit now
PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has warned his political rivals that he is no pushover and will not allow anyone to stampede him into retiring earlier than his own intended time.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, the tough-talking premier said his retirement was a domestic issue that will be discussed and decided by him and his children when the time is right.
In the meantime, Mr Thabane said he remained the lawful leader of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the four-party coalition government. His term of office ends in 2022, not any other time decided by his rivals, he said. The premier said people “that I don’t report to” had no right to push him into retirement.
Mr Thabane’s remarks appear to be a severe slight at South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoy to Lesotho, Jeff Radebe, who this week announced that various stakeholders including Mr Thabane’s own ABC, his fellow governing coalition partners, opposition parties, churches and civic organisations had unanimously agreed that Mr Thabane must leave power immediately.
Mr Thabane had originally promised to quit in July 2020 but calls have mounted for him to quit now.
In the aftermath of weekend meetings with stakeholders, Mr Radebe and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki signed an agreement stating, among other things, that parliamentary processes must commence to ensure that Mr Thabane leaves office with “dignity, grace and security”.
Mr Radebe’s two day visit to Lesotho along with South African deputy ministers Zizi Kodwa (State Security) and Candith Mashego-Dlamini (International Relations and Co-operation) was necessitated by Mr Thabane’s sudden deployment of heavily armed soldiers around Maseru on Saturday to deal with his rivals whom he accused of using the courts to destabilise his government. The premier deployed the army, a day after losing a court case in which he was found to have illegally prorogued parliament from 20 March to 19 June 2020. He then made a televised address, accusing his opponents of using the courts to destabilize the government and exhorting the army to deal with them severely.
It has now emerged that Mr Thabane had specifically ordered the army to arrest police commissioner Holomo Molibeli and his two juniors Deputy Commissioner (DCP) Paseka Mokete and Assistant Commissioner (ACP) Beleme Lebajoa, who have doggedly accused the premier of the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife Lipolelo Thabane.
Bloodshed was only averted when army commander Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela refused to implement Mr Thabane’s order to arrest the police top brass. Instead the army boss brokered peace by discouraging Deputy Commissioner (DCP) Sera Makharilele from accepting appointment as acting police commissioner as that would have violated several court orders barring Mr Thabane from firing Commissioner Molibeli. DCP Makharilele complied before the army went back to the barracks.
The premier’s own ABC and the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) have already inked a deal to form a new coalition government excluding Mr Thabane. The ABC-DC deal is supported by two of Mr Thabane’s current coalition government partners, the Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) as well as another opposition party, the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD). This guarantees the 61-seat threshold to form a new government as 34 of the ABC’s 52 MPs have signed a pledge to support the deal.
The five parties have now demanded Mr Thabane’s immediate resignation saying in a statement he is “unfit to hold office”.
But the premier has rebuffed them, saying in the interview he will only leave power at his own volition and at a time of his own choosing.
“…People who I don’t report to (are) setting the time for my departure, their own convenient time. They have no right to do so” the premier told the Lesotho Times.
“I have not committed any crime. I have never refused anything that was reasonably put before me. But I cannot be pushed around by any human being in this world. I am only scared of God. Write (in your newspaper) that I said there is no single person that I am afraid of in this world. Let everybody hear that loudly and clearly…There are only those I have respect for, love or dislike. But they have no right to push or disrespect me…I please need you to publish that,” Mr Thabane said.
Pressed to provide a date for his departure in light of the growing calls for him to quit, the premier only urged patience.
“I want to ensure that all the plans that we have put in motion are implemented before I leave.
“I want to leave a legacy. I worked for the BNP government when I was a member of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP). I worked for the BCP government and when the LCD was formed, I was right inside and later left it. That is the beginning and end of my story.”
In the meantime, he urged the world to leave with his promised July 2020 date for retirement.
But ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa insisted yesterday the country cannot cope with Mr Thabane till July. He must leave office as soon as possible. DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu said the premier must leave office “yesterday”, warning Mr Thabane he now risked an ignominious exit via a parliamentary no confidence vote.
“We informed the envoy (Mr Radebe) that we want him (Thabane) gone as soon as yesterday…We can’t afford to have him till July,” said Mr Mokhothu.
“The senate is sitting tomorrow (Friday) to approve a constitutional amendment bill that would close any legal loopholes for Thabane to avoid a vote of no confidence… If he doesn’t want to go now, he will face humiliation in parliament,” Mr Mokhothu vowed.
That constitutional amendment bill has already been passed by the National Assembly and now awaits Senate approval before being signed into law by King Letsie. The bill clips the prime minister’s powers to dissolve parliament to avoid ouster via a no confidence vote. It appears Mr Thabane is leaving on borrowed time despite his belligerence as the bill is likely to become law in a matter of days.
Still, the prime minister is digging in.
“That’s plain disrespect,” he said of all those calling for him to go now. “They are disrespectful and that is the end of the story. I am not their peer. They should know that. You cannot mess around with (my) grey hair……
“I am still within my legal term of office and I don’t know what this rush is all about. I am not going to give in to their demands and allow them to push me around. They can do whatever they want but I am not going to do that (retire now).
At nearly 81, Mr Thabane says he should be regarded a fountain of wisdom not to be hounded out of office disrespectfully.
“I lead a principled party. But if I discover that I failed to make it principled, I will officially disassociate myself from it and say I am leaving it because it is no longer that party which 17 of us formed after we defected from the LCD in 2007. You should write this in your story.”
The remarks seemed to confirm Mr Thabane frustrations with his party, which has disowned him and asked him to step down in the face of allegations he killed his ex-wife. The premier has been in negotiations to form another coalition with other parties but is unlikely to succeed.
Mr Thabane said he had already requested ABC members through their MPs and other leadership structures to start looking for his successor so that he can eventually hand over to the chosen person. But the remarks are even more confusing because his party’s parliamentary caucus has already settled for Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro as his successor. Mr Thabane has nonetheless failed to acknowledge that fact, implying he never meant it when he promised to quit much sooner than July if his party settled for a successor.
Only his immediate family had a right to discuss the matter of his departure from power with him, the premier insisted.
“I have told my children that I would no more contest for any political office and I would retire after I have successfully dealt with the issues that I am handling now.
“They (children) have a right to know what I am doing and my future as their father,” he said, adding they were the only ones who stood by him when he was in exile in Ficksburg between 2015 and 2017, during another phase of instability in Lesotho, before he returned to win snap elections for his second stint as premier.
“I didn’t see anyone showing support and care for me during my difficult times. Only my children were worried about my wellbeing. Now I don’t know what all this fuss about my life is for and I don’t know where these people get the right (to demand retirement). Not only are they violating my rights but they are disrespecting me.”
He added: “Does anybody in this country think I cannot weigh what is right and what is wrong regarding this party which I and 16 others formed? Does anybody think they can now just have a right, when they joined the party last month or some other time, to tell me what to do and what not to do?”
Mr Thabane is estranged from his party’s deputy, Nqosa Mahao, and other top officials whom he claims are knew to the party.
He also reminded those haranguing him to step down that he was not their age-mate but their fathers’ age-mate. So, they should not disrespect him.
“I am glad that I have had a long life and I am at the age where God will probably call me anytime soon… I thus feel so bad about this energy of young people who are hungry for power and who are now disrespecting me instead of seeing me as a source of wisdom,” he said.
He chastised some of those baying for his blood as school dropouts who should instead be aspiring for self-improvement to better themselves in a competitive world.
The remarks seemed aimed at the likes of main opposition leader Mr Mokhothu, who is almost half Mr Thabane’s age.