Headache for ABC-DC as Thabane refuses to resign

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  • insists on leading new govt until 31 July despite Majoro’s nomination

Ntsebeng Motsoeli/Pascalinah Kabi

EMBATTLED Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has not yet formally quit despite the collapse of his four-party coalition this week. He is said to be digging in his heels, insisting on leading the new coalition government expected to be sworn in next week until he formally retires in July.

This could potentially plunge the country into a constitutional crisis as King Letsie III requires Mr Thabane’s formal resignation letter before inviting another leader to form a new government.

Mr Thabane’s main allies, led by small business minister Chalane Phori, have added a new dimension to the milieu of confusion. They say they only added their names to a letter terminating the current coalition after they had been informed that Mr Thabane would lead the new coalition fronted by his All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC).

“Mr Thabane is still the legitimate leader of the ABC and must therefore become prime minister of the new government next week,” charged Mr Phori yesterday.

“We signed (the letter terminating the current coalition) after it was agreed that the ABC-DC deal does not exclude Motsoahae Thomas Thabane and the AD (Alliance of Democrats). If Thomas Motsoahae Thabane is the legitimate leader of the ABC, then it follows he will become prime minister of the new government next week.”

But the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC), which is estranged from its leader and has led the onslaught against Mr Thabane, is having none of it.  Spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa vowed the die is cast and Mr Thabane must go now. He warned the premier now risked an ignominious exit of a no confidence vote unless he quits to enable a smooth transition to a new coalition led by Finance minister Moeketsi Majoro.

Various party officials interviewed said they had expected Mr Thabane to have gone to hand over his resignation letter to the King after the events in Parliament on Monday. By the time of going to print yesterday, the PM had not quit.  In the absence of a formal no confidence vote, the premier must resign formally to enable the King to invite Dr Majoro to form a new coalition.

But sources said Mr Thabane was insisting that he should lead whichever new government is formed when Parliament resumes sitting on Friday 22 May 2020. He insists on remaining at the helm until his own planned retirement on 31 July 2020.

All that flies in the face of major developments this week, mainly the formal collapse of his current four party coalition.

The four-party government collapsed on Monday after Speaker of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, accepted a notification letter of its termination.

National Assembly clerk, Advocate Fine Maema, confirmed the King had now been formally notified of the collapse of the government and the nomination of a new leader to become PM.

Mr Motanyane had adjourned parliament to 22 May 2020 to facilitate processes towards the transfer of power to the new ABC-DC coalition government.  He had since forwarded another letter to the King confirming Dr Majoro’s nomination as new premier.

Mr Thabane’s resignation letter is nonetheless still missing, tying the King’s hands.   The King cannot formally ask Dr Majoro to form new government in the absence of Mr Thabane’s formal resignation letter or a formal no confidence vote. The latter option had nonetheless been avoided to enable Mr Thabane a dignified exit as brokered by South Africa. It now seems to be the only remaining option unless Mr Thabane resigns.

Mr Thabane is resisting quitting because of Section 87 (2) of the constitution which states that “the King shall appoint as prime minister, the member of the national assembly who appears to the Council of State to be the leader of the political party or coalition of political parties that will command the support of a majority of the members of the national assembly”.

Mr Thabane’s allies like Mr Phori insist Dr Majoro is not yet a leader of a party and should not be allowed to form the government. Mr Thabane, who is still the leader of the ABC, despite his estrangement from its NEC, must thus lead any new coalition until his own set retirement date of end of July 2020, Mr Phori argues.

However, Attorney General Haae Phoofolo has already authored a detailed opinion which disputes Mr Thabane and his ally’s interpretation of Section 87 (2). According to Mr Phoofolo’s opinion, any MP can be nominated to become premier.  The opinion was issued at Speaker Motanyane’s request after the ABC’s June 2019 motion of no confidence against Mr Thabane. The ABC had then nominated Mr Sam Rapapa to take over even though he was not leader of the party. The motion was not pursued but the attorney general had made it clear any MP can be nominated to become PM.

There is no place for Mr Thabane in the ABC-DC coalition deal inked last month and the parties want to see his back much sooner and have Dr Majoro take over as prime minister with DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu as deputy.

The ABC-DC deal has wide support in Parliament including from two of Mr Thabane’s now collapsed coalition – the Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

Everything had appeared on course for the inauguration of the new government with Dr Majoro at the helm next week. Even the normally staid Speaker Motanyane had sounded dramatic.

“The die is cast and all is over. The intention is to form a new government as per the coalition deal between the two parties (ABC and DC). Everyone knows what has to follow. Those who were ministers know where to tender their resignations and the prime minister also knows where to tender his resignation to make way for the new government,” he said Monday after reading and approving the letter terminating the coalition.

But barely 24 hours after endorsing the collapse of his government, Mr Thabane and his allies were already singing a different tune.

“The Prime Minister has not resigned, his ministers have also not resigned,” said an ABC official yesterday.

“He has been locked in meetings with the ABC’s NEC throughout the day (yesterday) and we will map the way forward after the meeting,” the source said of a meeting at which Mr Thabane was said to be profusely pleading to be allowed to stay in office. It’s not clear why he is insisting on going in July when his departure is demanded now. It seems he believes he can still use that time to achieve some immunity deal to avoid prosecution for the murder of his ex-wife Lipolelo. There is also a belief he remains tied down by hangers-on who have benefited from manipulating the soon to be 81-year-old PM. The cronies don’t want to see him go.

ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele said no meeting had occurred yesterday. He said two scheduled meetings with Mr Thabane did not materialise due to the premier’s ill health.  He still hoped a meeting would happen soon for the premier to be persuaded to quit and void any further turmoil.

“We were supposed to meet him yesterday but the meeting was postponed because he had gone to Bloemfontein to seek medical attention. He is going back tomorrow because he is still unwell,” Mr Hlaele said.

“We don’t know why he has not resigned because he was supposed to have resigned already. We don’t know what’s stopping him from resigning.”

Mr Thabane was not reachable on his mobile phone for comment yesterday.

However, his key ally Mr Phori insisted they had only belatedly signed up for the ABC-DC coalition after getting assurances that Mr Thabane would remain at the helm.  ABC veteran Prince Maliehe, concurred with Mr Phori, saying they only endorsed the ABC-DC deal after assurances that Mr Thabane would not be pushed out of office in an undignified way…

Mr Masoetsa, the ABC spokesperson, rejected the claims saying no such assurances had been issued. Mr Thabane and his allies had endorsed the ABC-DC deal after realizing that they were severely outnumbered by those in favour.

Thirty four of the 53 ABC legislators had already signed the deal before 12 others, including Mr Thabane, eventually endorsed it on Monday, leaving only nine ABC legislators who have not endorsed the deal.

Besides Messrs Thabane, Phori and Maliehe, others who signed the deal are Fako Moshoeshoe (Mabote constituency), Litšoane Litšoane (Bela-Bela), Thabang Mafojane (Motimposo), Lehlohonolo Moramotse (Lithoteng), Temeki Tšolo (Mafeteng), Tšehlo Ramarou (Leribe), Leshoboro Mohlajoa (Malimong), Mahala Molapo (Thaba Phatsoa) and Samonyane Ntsekele (Tsikoane).

Mr Masoetsa says there is no point in Mr Thabane hanging on.

“Which government does he (Mr Thabane) still want to lead because we toppled him in parliament? On whose mandate would he be leading that government after he was toppled and a new prime minister has since been nominated? He is merely creating a constitutional crisis by refusing to resign… He is also now forcing our hand to send him home in a disgraceful manner. …,” said Mr Masoetsa, adding it was clear Mr Thabane would overwhelmingly lose a no confidence vote.

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