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No confidence vote in limbo

  • as DC threatens to withdraw its support for Thabane’s ouster

Pascalinah Kabi

THE country’s biggest opposition party, the Democratic Congress (DC) has threatened to withdraw its support for the Professor Nqosa Mahao-led All Basotho Convention (ABC) faction’s no confidence motion against ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

This in retaliation for the Mahao faction’s refusal to support DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu’s motion to compel the  government to stop the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) from reducing the number of rural constituencies during a planned delineation exercise.

The Mahao faction has hit back by accusing the DC of holding a gun to its head to force them to endorse the motion against the IEC. The Mahao faction’s spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, said the DC motion on the IEC was misplaced because the IEC was an independent body with a mandate to delineate constituencies every 10 years.

Mr Masoetsa also claimed that the Mahao faction was negotiating with Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki for his cooperation in ousting Dr Thabane and they were not prepared to support the DC on the IEC because this could cost them Mr Moleleki’s support.

At the heart of the dispute is the DC’s anger with the Mahao faction over its failure to support its motion to stop the IEC from reducing the number of rural constituencies during its ongoing delimitation exercise.

Mr Mokhothu wanted the motion inserted as a clause in another motion to amend the constitution to clip the prime minister’s powers to prevent him from advising the king to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections whenever he lost a no confidence vote in parliament.

The motion to amend the constitution was moved in parliament last Tuesday by Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Lekhetho Rakuoane, and unanimously approved by legislators across the political divide.

However, the DC is unhappy that the motion was accepted without the clause that had been proposed by Mr Mokhothu.

While the DC says it will not abandon its quest to stop the IEC from reducing the number of rural constituencies, is main support base, it has however vowed to punish the Mahao faction for failing to support it.

DC spokesperson Serialong Qoo this week told the Lesotho Times that the DC will not hesitate to withdraw its support for the no confidence motion and “leave them (Mahao faction) out in the cold for Thabane to do as he pleases with them”.

The motion is the culmination of a power struggle in the ABC pitting Dr Thabane against his party deputy, Prof Mahao. The infighting began when Dr Thabane rejected Prof Mahao’s election to the party’s second most powerful post in February 2019 on the grounds that the latter was a newcomer who should not be elected ahead of more seasoned party cadres. And in June 2019, Motebang Koma, the ABC’s Koro-Koro constituency legislator, filed the no confidence motion against Dr Thabane.

Mr Koma, who is one of the ABC legislators backing Prof Mahao, was seconded in the motion by the DC’s deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa.

Parliament had been abruptly adjourned after Mr Koma’s motion was filed to save Dr Thabane from being toppled then and to give him ample time to resolve the power struggle in his fractious party. But after parliament re-opened two weeks ago, the pro-Mahao faction has vowed to push ahead with the no confidence motion.

However, there are no longer any guarantees of the DC support which is crucial to the success of the motion. At least 20 out of the 53 ABC MPs are said to be Mahao supporters but without the DC’s 26 seats, the no confidence motion would not succeed even if it was backed by the rest of the opposition parties. DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, said his party will not support the motion unless the Mahao faction supported its own motion to stop the IEC from reducing the number of rural constituencies.

The IEC has a mandate to delineate electoral constituencies every 10 years and  the DC accuses the ABC of arm-twisting the IEC to reduce the number of rural constituencies to undercut the latter’s support in the event of elections being held. The 2017 polls showed that the DC enjoyed more support in the rural areas while the ABC won most of the urban seats. Consequently the DC believes there are attempts by the ABC to ensure the IEC reduces the number of rural constituencies while increasing those in the urban areas on the pretext that many rural dwellers have migrated to the urban areas in the past 10 years. The DC believes this is being done to help the ABC increase its support base in the urban areas.

“We want the government to discipline the IEC by telling it to immediately stop cutting down the number of constituencies in the rural areas and we will to file a motion to compel the government to do that,” Mr Qoo said, adding the IEC had begun reducing the number of rural constituencies on the grounds that many rural dwellers had migrated to the urban areas like Maseru and Maputsoe in search of jobs.

“The IEC is deliberately increasing the number of urban constituencies to ensure that the ABC amasses more votes while killing the DC’s strongholds. The IEC is doing this because they are members of Thabane’s ABC. They are serving the interests of the ABC.”

Mr Qoo said they “will not vote with them (Mahao faction) on the no confidence motion if they refuse to vote with us on this one (motion on the IEC)”.

“We will not support this move (no confidence motion) because it is clear that they are just using us, they see us as their puppets. We meant it when we said he (Dr Thabane) must go but we will not assist people who are not ready to back us up when we need them. We will leave them out in the cold for Thabane to do as he pleases with them,” Mr Qoo said.

However, Mr Masoetsa said the DC was wrong to demand action against the IEC when the law was “very clear that after every 10 years there will be re-demarcation of constituencies”. He also alleged that the Mahao faction was negotiating with Deputy Prime Minister Moleleki for his cooperation in ousting Dr Thabane and they were prepared to jettison the DC over the IEC issue to win Mr Moleleki’s support.

“What do they want us to do when the law is very clear on the delineation of constituencies)?

“The DC wants to negotiate with a gun to our necks and I don’t like this. They should not turn us into monkeys. While we need both Mokhothu and Moleleki (Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki) to address national issues, we need Moleleki more because he is already in government and he can help us from within. We can make all the noise we want with Mokhothu but if Moleleki does not support our cause, the no confidence motion will not be tabled in parliament.”

Mr Masoetsa said they had given themselves up to the end of November 2019 to conclude all the legal processes towards the ousting of Dr Thabane and the DC had to accept that amending the IEC act to accommodate the DC’s concerns was not a priority.

“The DC has established itself in the rural areas and they are worried that this (delimitation) exercise will hurt them but we cannot entertain this (DC motion on the IEC) at the moment because we have other pressing issues like our talks with Moleleki.

“We have had talks with him and there are ongoing talks where he has put conditions before us and so far we are not agreeing on any of those. Moleleki is the best placed to assist us in addressing national issues at the moment because he is already inside (government).”

Asked what the talks were specifically about and what conditions Mr Moleleki placed before them, Mr Masoetsa said, “It has to be kept secretly among the eight people who were in that meeting”.

“But it is important for me to stress that we need both Moleleki and Mokhothu to address the issues facing this nation. Without both of them, we will not have the required majority to oust Thabane. We are not asking them to solve our ABC internal squabbles but we want them to work with us to address national issues,” Mr Masoetsa said.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD) spokesperson, Thuso Litjobo, said he was not aware of any talks between Mr Moleleki and the Mahao faction aimed at securing the AD’s support for a no confidence vote against Dr Thabane.

He said he was only aware of efforts by Mr Moleleki, Basotho National Party leader, Thesele Maseribane, and Reformed Congress of Lesotho leader, Keketso Rantšo, to mediate between the two ABC factions.

“What I know is that Mokola (Moleleki) is shuttling between the two ABC factions in an effort to bring peace between the factions and ensure that the ABC is ultimately united. Mokola is therefore constantly meeting the two factions but not with the intention to work with either faction or to have Ntate Thabane replaced for,” Mr Litjobo said.

On his part, the IEC spokesperson, Tuoe Hantši, denied that the IEC had reduced the number of rural or other constituencies to favour any political party. He said the delineation exercise was still in the early stages as they were still consulting all the stakeholders and as such it was too early to say how the constituencies would eventually be demarcated. He however, said the IEC was mandated by law to delineate the constituencies and it would be guided in the exercise by the results of the latest national census which was conducted in 2016.

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