. . . as LCD leader breathes fire
Bongiwe Zihlangu/Billy Ntaote
A political pact of three political parties that gave birth to Lesotho’s first ever coalition government has effectively collapsed, plunging the Kingdom into a new era of political uncertainty.
At a press conference late yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing , who is also leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), blamed the failure of the political pact on Prime Minister Thomas Thabane , leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), whom he accused of ubiquitously making unilateral decisions to the exclusion of his coalition partners.
“We have decided that we can no longer endure the humiliation that the Honourable Dr Thabane is inflicting upon the LCD by his unilateral and undemocratic conduct…,” declared Mr Metsing yesterday.
He said the LCD had decided to “accept that the Prime Minister has cancelled and rendered nugatory the strength and existence (sic) of the coalition by refusing to observe and adhere to the good faith (sic) and democratic principles.”
Despite the collapse of the May 2012 political pact dubbed, the Coalition Agreement (CA), Mr Metsing said his party’s ministers would not immediately resign their government posts.
Instead the LCD would now talk to other political parties to try and constitute a majority to form a new government with a new Prime Minister.
This the LCD would most probably do with the Democratic Congress (DC), which won the most constituency based seats in the last general elections.
But Dr Thabane has already launched a pre-emptive strike against any move to unseat him by issuing a prorogation (suspension) order against Parliament, which was duly signed by King Letsie III on Tuesday evening in line with the constitution.
Prorogation means that all meetings of Parliament are discontinued without dissolving it.
Dr Thabane’s reasoning is that by suspending Parliament, there would be no sitting to even consider any motion to unseat him.
This will allow him to rule without Parliament until March next year after which he can reopen parliament or call fresh elections.
Mr Metsing has nonetheless begged to differ. He said there was no consultation over the prorogation and suggested that it was invalid because it was “ill-conceived”.
Mr Metsing said his party would now seek new coalition partners to constitute a majority to form a new government.
“Once we have agreed (with other parties), we will expect the relevant authorities, this being the King, parliament and the Council of State, to make a decision once we present our numbers to them,” said Mr Metsing , in remarks that clearly indicate that his party does not recognize Dr Thabane’s prorogation of Parliament.
This clear clash of viewpoints and actions is likely to throw the country into turmoil as the LCD and its allies try to assert their presumed right to form a new government while Dr Thabane insists on keeping Parliament suspended.
“We are heading into an uncomfortable zone. We must all be very afraid,” warned a senior government official, who requested not to be named saying he is not a politician.
The ABC, being the lead coalition partner, the LCD and the Basotho National Party, signed the CA in May 2012, which governed the way the parties would jointly govern Lesotho.
This was after the elections failed to produce an overall winner to form a government. Even though the Democratic Congress (DC) a splinter from the LCD had won the most seats (41)in contested constituencies and gained an extra 7 proportional representation seats, bringing its total to 48 in the 120 member House, it failed to form a government.
This was mainly attributable to the bad blood between it and the LCD, from which it had splintered just before the elections.
It was left to the ABC, which had a total of 30 seats ( 26 from constituencies and 4 PR) to join hands with the LCD, which won 26 (12 constituencies and 14 PR seats) and the BNP, which garnered only five PR seats to form the fractious coalition.
Metsing now says the coalition was saddled with problems from the onset.
The ABC now has 28 seats after two of its MPs, Mophato Monyake and Thabiso Litsiba, crossed the floor. Mr Litsiba, a former secretary general of the ABC, has since joined the DC while Mr Monyake says he is now an independent.
DC supporters and some of its key leaders thronged the LCD press conference yesterday.
Even though they did not speak, their presence at the press conference of their former nemesis suggested the two parties have buried the hatchet and are now working together in their bid to unseat Dr Thabane .
If they join faces, the DC and the LCD will constitute a comfortable majority with 74 seats.
But the big question that remains is how they can push their way through to form a government when Dr Thabane has suspended Parliament and his prorogation, approved by the King, will legally last until February 27th 2015 and Parliament cannot sit to consider any business until then.
Mr Metsing seemed to suggest they will find a way as Lesotho cannot run without a Parliament for so long saying it is against the norms and principles of democracy.
He did not specify the manner in which he will seek to overcome that legal hurdle. But he emphasized that Dr
Thabane cannot validly rule with only 28 seats that his party now commands in a 120 member Parliament.
The ABC appeared unfazed by Mr Metsing’s remarks and his party’s actions yesterday. The ABC Secretary General, Mr Samonyane Ntsekele, said last night that parliament now stood prorogued and it could not transact any business.
There would therefore be no sitting of Parliament to even start discussing a new majority and new coalition government. With the two sides digging in their heels, it now seems the matter will most probably end up in the courts.
Mr Metsing accused Dr Thabane of failing to embrace the coalition government from the onset.
He accused him of a litany of violations of the CA mainly revolving around the hirings and firings of key government employees without consultations.
He said the coalition partners had agreed to engage the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) for mediation.
But while this process was underway, he said the LCD had learnt of the prorogation of Parliament “despite the fact that we’re still in the middle of talks as coalition partners”.
“The church leaders had requested that we sit down and try to engage each other in talks, and abandon everything else while talks are underway,” Mr Metsing said.
“But this morning (yesterday), I leant that the prorogation had gone ahead despite the fact that we’re still in talks. I was told that it was signed last night (Tuesday night).”
He added: “Ladies and gentlemen, how can this happen when we’re still in talks?”
Mr Metsing said Dr Thabane ’s actions had conclusively proved that he was no longer interested in the coalition government.
“….We will come back to inform the nation of the agreement we have reached with the parties that we’re currently trying to court,” Mr Metsing said. He promised that could happen as early as today.
Mr Metsing added that it was time to accept that Dr Thabane ‘hated’ the coalition and that “not much can be done about it”.
“Today we declare that we have accepted that the person we had appointed as our coalition government leader has never, does not, and never will embrace a coalition government,” Mr Metsing said.
“We did all we can on a daily basis to protect this government, for it to live, but if the PM does not want then there’s nothing more we can do.”
Mr Metsing was flanked by members of the LCD executive committee including deputy leader and Public Service Minister Motloheloa Phooko, party chairman Thabang Pheko, spokersperson and Communications Minister Selibe Mochoboroane, Deputy-Secretary General Ts’eliso Mokhosi, Forestry and Land Reclamation Minister Khotso Matla, who is also publisher of a party newspaper called Moloi, and Education Deputy Minister Liteboho Kompi.
However, visibly absent were the party’s expelled secretary-general, Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rants’o, Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa, the party’s treasurer and Finance Minister Dr. Leketekete Ketso, Public Works and Transport Minister Lebesa Maloi and Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs deputy minister Apesi Rats’ele.
Tsekoa, Rants’o, Ketso and Mosothoane are said to be members of a rival faction of the LCD loyal to Dr. Dr Thabane, who prefer their party to remain in the coalition.
Mr Metsing said that although the LCD had fought to keep their disagreements under wraps, the straw that broke the camel’s back was “Dr Thabane’s unwillingness to consult with us when making major decisions”.
“It is not every day that we air our dirty linen in public, we only ever came out in the past to defend ourselves against allegations raised against us by our coalition partners…. But we have been left with no option but to speak out now,” Mr Metsing said.
“We came together (in this coalition) because we all yearned for changes (in governance) , but the rude awakening we’ve had is that maybe we did not all want the same changes after all.”
It had not always been easy “being in a coalition government with the ABC leader”, Mr Metsing reiterated.
He said problems began even before the Prime Minister was sworn into office after the latter tried to reduce the ministerial posts for the LCD from 10 , as originally agreed to seven, while the ABC got 14.
Last minute interventions had saved the day and the LCD got its 10 posts. The ABC controls 12 ministries while the BNP has two.
Mr Metsing insisted that Dr Thabane could not remain Prime Minister without a majority in Parliament since he derived his initial position from a coalition agreement.
Mr Ntsekele, the ABC secretary general, dismissed all allegations raised against Dr Thabane by Mr Metsing . He said what the LCD was now doing was unlawful as the government could only be formed in parliament and not outside.
“What they are doing is not legal. A government is formed in Parliament and not outside parliament. Unfortunately for them, parliament is now suspended and is not sitting. So they cannot form a government. If ever a government was formed outside parliament we could also have done so in 2007 as the ABC (when the party lost elections to the LCD),” Mr Ntsekele said.
He said the decision by the LCD to hold a press conference had shocked them as it was absolutely unnecessary.
He said the LCD should prefer dialogue with its partners instead of engaging in political grandstanding.
Mr Ntsekele said Dr Thabane and the ABC would seek to continue working with the coalition partners for the good of Basotho.
“The Prime Minister is going to have an official statement in which he would reassure Basotho he is committed to the coalition government and that we want it to work out,” said Mr Ntsekele.
However, if the LCD fails to unseat Dr Thabane but still clings to its ministerial positions, despite the clear collapse of the 2012 political pact on the basis of which the parties had agreed to rule, it’s difficult to see how the government will act coherently. It is virtually impossible to contemplate how all the parties will work in unison ever again considering the current bloodletting amongst them.
Advocate Tekane Maqakachane, a private law firm owner and civil procedure lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), said the Coalition Agreement between the three parties was not a constitutional document but an arrangement between them on how to govern.
It must therefore be differentiated from the constitutional imperative of appointing a Prime Minister which requires the leader of the party with the most seats in the House to become Premier.
“If there is prorogation, there wouldn’t be time for Parliament to sit to determine who has a majority. It is only at the end of the prorogation when we can check whether there has been a shift in numbers,” said Advocate Maqakachance in remarks that suggest that Mr Metsing’s bid to oust Dr Thabane has no legal basis.
“What Mr Metsing is saying about the numbers constituting a government can only be determined when parliament sessions resume after this prorogation period,” he said.
Advocate Maqakachane said parties entering into coalitions outside parliament would have to wait for parliament to be in session to declare their majorities. They certainly could not count and declare themselves as a majority outside parliament.
“One doesn’t count a majority on themselves at a hotel or a political rally or a social gathering or a press conference…
A majority is only counted in the national assembly of Lesotho on the house’s floor as per the laws of Lesotho,” Advocate Maqakachane said.