Titanic battle for ABC leadership looms

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Pascalinah Kabi

NEWLY appointed Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro is expected to square off with All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao and party chairperson Samuel Rapapa in a titanic battle for the ABC leader’s post at a special conference expected in July 2020.

Prof Mahao and Mr Rapapa confirmed they would contest the leadership post. Dr Majoro had not responded at the time of going to print but party insiders said he would “definitely contest”.

Whoever wins will take over from former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who has led the party since its inception in 2006.

Dr Majoro succeeded Mr Thabane as premier on 20 May 2020 but the latter remains party leader. Mr Thabane was forced to resign by the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) and legislators who felt he had become a liability after he was charged with the 14 June 2017 murder of his former wife, Lipolelo. It was also felt that Mr Thabane, who turns 81 today, had run out of steam due to his advanced age, allowing his wife ‘Maesaiah (42) and her close allies to usurp his powers.

Dr Majoro is the ABC’s Thetsane constituency legislator. He was sworn in last week to lead a new coalition, anchored by the ABC and the former main opposition Democratic Congress (DC), until the next elections in 2022.

The two parties jointly have 78 parliamentary seats. Eight smaller parties have also thrown their weight behind the ABC-DC grand coalition with 19 seats. The smaller parties are Movement for Economic Change (6 seats), Basotho National Party (5 seats), Popular Front for Democracy (3 seats) and one seat each from Basotho Congress Party, Reformed Congress of Lesotho, National Independent Party, Marematlou Freedom Party and Democratic Party of Lesotho.

Although Dr Majoro was catapulted to the premiership by a solid majority of parliamentarians, his position in the ABC is tenuous as he is not a member of the powerful NEC. He contested and lost the deputy leader’s post to Prof Mahao at the party’s February 2019 elective conference. A victory against the man who beat him to the ABC’s second most powerful post is the only way he can ring-fence his position as prime minister at the 2022 general elections.

ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa says the NEC will call a special conference to elect a new party leader in July 2020. Mr Thabane had intended to resign the premiership on 31 July before being forced out last week.

“The national executive committee will call for a special conference to elect a new party leader in July,” Mr Masoetsa told the Lesotho Times this week.

“We have not decided on the date for the special conference but the plan still stands,” Mr Masoetsa said, adding, “he (Mr Thabane) had said he would resign from party leadership in July”.

Mr Masoetsa said Mr Thabane’s expected resignation would be an “insignificant event” which would not affect the ABC as the veteran leader’s contribution to the party had lately been “next to non-existent in our eyes”.

He said Prof Mahao had effectively been running the party. He would continue to hold fort until the special conference to elect a new leader.  Prof Mahao also told the Lesotho Times’ sister Sunday Express newspaper that of late Mr Thabane was no longer actively participating in party affairs and meetings and decisions were often made in his absence and without his input.

Although he would not be drawn into saying when the party would hold a special conference to elect Mr Thabane’s successor, he said they expected that the veteran politician would step down at some point as he had consistently spoken about how tired he was.

“Remember that Ntate Thabane has from time to time spoken about how tired he is and he was no longer even attending NEC meetings that were held literally in the premises where he lived. We can expect that in due course he will step down from the position of party leader.”

Asked if he would contest the ABC leader’s post, Prof Mahao said, “Definitely. I will throw my hat in the ring”.

“I also expect that there will be other comrades who will be disposed to do the same. We have to walk the talk in terms of embracing a democratic culture and democracy is mediated through democratic competition,” Prof Mahao said.

The election will present Mr Rapapa with another opportunity to stake a claim to become prime minister. He had been the Mahao faction’s original choice to replace Mr Thabane because Prof Mahao is not a member of the National Assembly- a constitutional requirement for one to be appointed premier.

Mr Rapapa was nominated by the NEC to succeed Mr Thabane when the Mahao faction filed a no confidence motion against the then prime minister in parliament in June 2019.

The motion was eventually not pursued after it was thrown out by the speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, on the grounds that Mr Rapapa could not be nominated as he was not a leader of a political party.  The motion was not revived after Mr Thabane subsequently announced his own intentions to step down.

The NEC eventually gave in to demands by ABC legislators to include them on determining the next PM as they controlled the votes to settle the issue in the National Assembly. The NEC had originally argued that determining Mr Thabane’s successor was its sole prerogative. In the ensuing vote, Mr Rapapa lost out to Dr Majoro who polled 26 votes to his 18.

He then said he would turn his attention to campaigning for the party’s leader post whenever it fell vacant.

Although he would not say when the elections to choose a new leader would be held, Mr Rapapa himself told this publication that he would definitely throw his “hat into the ring” whenever they are convened.

He said as chairperson, he was third in the party hierarchy after Mr Thabane and Prof Mahao.  It was thus only fair that he continues pursuing his dreams of leading the ABC and eventually ruling the country.

“I have been with the party for the past 16 years and why shouldn’t I contest? I will definitely contest. I am contesting because I want to lead this country.

“I want to use my expertise and lead this country. For you to lead in politics as the prime minister, you have to be a leader of the party. You cannot just decide to be a prime minister without wanting to be leader of a political party. So, I will definitely contest,” Mr Rapapa said yesterday.

At the time of going to print last night, Dr Majoro had not responded to the Lesotho Times’ questions regarding his intentions going forward. Party insiders said it was nevertheless obvious that he would contest for the leader’s post to cement his position as prime minister.

Mr Majoro’s election to become prime minister without him being leader of a political party is unprecedented in Lesotho’s Westminster based political system. Party insiders said he would thus have to seek the leadership of the party unless he was only interested in lasting as PM till the 2022 elections.

Dr Majoro told guests at his swearing-in ceremony last week that it had always been Mr Thabane’s intention to have him succeed the former prime minister in his party and government posts.

“He (Thabane) said the right time will come where I will need you to take over as my successor in the party and I will guide you’,” Dr Majoro said. But that had not happened as the world now knew, Dr Majoro added, in reference to his February 2019 loss to Prof Mahao.

Party insiders said the election of a new ABC leader sooner, rather than later, would also help remove Mr Thabane’s residual influence from the party and government and any negative tendencies it may exert on the new coalition. A victory for Dr Majoro would help create one centre of power and help him consolidate his authority and possibly keep his two powerful and influential rivals under check.

The insiders predicted greater problems for Dr Majoro if he loses to either Prof Mahao or Mr Rapapa. It is already difficult enough that he was catapulted to the prime minister’s post by a party he does not effectively control, even though Prof Mahao and Mr Rapapa had thus far rallied behind him. Problems would certainly arise for him if anyone of his rivals wins.  That will mean he cannot be PM beyond 2022 if the ABC wins those general elections.

 

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