ABC infighting to blame for collapse of govt: Moleleki

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Pascalinah Kabi | Ntsebeng Motsoeli

ALLIANCE of Democrats (AD) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki says the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) has only got itself to blame for the infighting that led to the collapse of the governing four-party coalition on Monday.

The governing coalition collapsed after three of the four coalition partners including Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) informed the speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, of their withdrawal from the coalition.

The ABC indicated its intention to form a new coalition with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC). The proposed coalition is supported by at least eight other smaller parties and it is expected to take charge on 22 May 2020.

Mr Moleleki, whose AD is the second largest party in the outgoing coalition, belatedly accepted the collapse of the current government. He however, pleaded for Mr Thabane to be allowed to remain in office up to July 2020.

He said this would be a reasonable grace period to allow the veteran leader to retire with the “grace, dignity and security” which various stakeholders including political parties and civic organisations had agreed on during the recent SADC mediated discussions on his exit. However, Mr Moleleki failed to justify why such a lengthy extension of Mr Thabane’s in office up to July 2020 was warranted.

Mr Thabane’s ouster is the product of his protracted power struggle with his deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, who enjoys the backing of the party’s national executive committee (NEC).

Mr Moleleki has often been accused of aggravating the ABC infighting to advance his personal interests as well as those of the AD. ABC officials have accused Mr Moleleki of influencing Mr Thabane to illegally prorogue parliament from 20 March  to 19 June 2020- a move which was nullified last month by the Constitutional Court after a petition by the ABC, DC and other parties.

Mr Thabane had prorogued parliament on 20 March ostensibly to ban large gatherings as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

It is widely believed that Mr Moleleki influenced Mr Thabane to prorogue parliament to prevent legislators from ousting the government at least until July 2020 by which time he would be eligible for his terminal benefits. Mr Moleleki only qualifies for his terminal benefits at the end of June 2020 when he has served the required minimum three years in the post.

But in his Monday press conference at the AD offices in Maseru, Mr Moleleki said the ABC should look within and stop blaming him and his party for the collapse of the government.

He said if anything, the AD’s only crime was to remain silent and refrain from taking sides in the ABC conflict.

“There is no way I am responsible for the fate of the four-party coalition,” Mr Moleleki said.

“Let me remind you. I have been accused of being too quiet (about the ABC infighting) on more than 20 occasions. Is it now Moleleki’s fault that the government has collapsed?

“If the AD and Moleleki were to be persecuted, they should only be persecuted for remaining neutral throughout. Therefore, that accusation is baseless.”

He also pleaded for Mr Thabane to be allowed to remain in office up to July 2020 when he would retire with “grace, dignity and security” as per the various stakeholders’ agreement during talks with South African special envoy, Jeff Radebe, last month.

Mr Radebe had been dispatched to Lesotho by South African president and SADC facilitator to Lesotho, Cyril Ramaphosa. His mission was to facilitate an agreement on Mr Thabane’s peaceful exit as part of efforts to ensure stability in Lesotho.

Mr Thabane has previously said he wants to leave at the end of July 2020 or earliest by 12 June if all the processes to facilitate his retirement are completed by then. The key processes including the choice of Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to succeed him have been finalised. The veteran leader has however sought immunity from prosecution for the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo. But he has so far failed to secure such guarantees and on Monday he agreed to go by 22 May 2020 to make way for the new ABC-DC coalition.

But Mr Moleleki still insists that Mr Thabane should be given up to July 2020. He argued that preparations to give Mr Thabane a dignified retirement were far from complete.

“History has been made. A sitting prime minister has voluntarily indicated his intention to retire and a change of government will be done without elections. His retirement must therefore be with grace, dignity and security.

“There has to be a dignified management of the transition. I would love to see him retiring in July as he had indicated because as a deputy prime minister, I know for a fact that preparations to ensure that he retires with dignity, grace and security are far from concluded.

“But if the ABC were to conclude those preparations before then, I would be thankful on their behalf,” Mr Moleleki said without elaborating.

He also vowed to continue protecting Mr Thabane as long as the latter remained in office.

Asked from whom and what he was protecting Mr Thabane from, Mr Moleleki said it was his duty as deputy prime minister to fill Mr Thabane’s shoes when the latter was ill or absent from office.

“The protection that I offer to the prime minister is to fill in for him when he is sick or out of office. I will even protect him from people who may want to attack him,” he said.

When it was put to him that his real reasons for pushing for Mr Thabane to remain in office until July were probably to ensure that the government only collapsed when he would be eligible for his terminal benefits, Mr Moleleki denied having such selfish motives.

“I am short of one month to qualify for the deputy prime minister’s benefits. However, I have already qualified for terminal benefits as the longest serving minister (in successive governments including the outgoing coalition),” Mr Moleleki said.

After realising that the current government could no longer be saved from collapse in parliament on Monday, the AD belatedly sought to be included in the proposed ABC-DC coalition. However, the request was turned down by both parties.

Later at the press conference, Mr Moleleki appeared to have resigned himself to the fact that the AD would no longer be in power.

He said he was “happy that two giants (ABC and DC) in parliament have now come together and formed a new government”.

He pleaded with the nation to support the ABC-DC deal, saying his party had always advocated a government of national unity (GNU).

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