PARLIAMENT has been indefinitely suspended amid widespread speculation the move is aimed at starving off a possible vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Thomas Thabane while creating time for him to resolve the intestine power struggle within his All Basotho Convention.
It had been anticipated that the motion to adjourn the sittings of the National Assembly would be debated and brought to a vote after it was tabled in parliament last Thursday by Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, in his capacity as Leader of the House.
Dr Thabane’s ABC and Mr Moleleki’s AD are in a governing coalition with Communications minister Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
However, the coalition which was formed in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 snap elections is facing peril because of the relentless power struggle in the ABC which began after its highly contested leadership elections.
Professor Nqosa Mahao romped to victory in the contest for the deputy leader’s post after brushing aside party heavyweights like Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, Public Works and Transport Minister Prince Maliehe and outgoing chairperson Motlohi Maliehe.
The victory puts Prof Mahao in the driving seat to succeed Dr Thabane when he eventually leaves office. However, Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC’s election has been rejected by the old NEC. The latter insists it cannot allow a “newcomer” to usurp power in a party founded by its members 13 years ago in 2006. The outcome of the ABC’s NEC elections has also been challenged in court by ABC cabinet ministers, Habofanoe Lehana (Local Government and Chieftainship), Keketso Sello (Mining) and ABC legislator, Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe constituency).
The trio want the court to nullify the outcome of the 1-2 February 2019 NEC elections on the grounds that they were marred by vote rigging and order fresh polls within three months.
But recent moves by the ABC’s pro-Mahao legislator for the Mosalemane constituency, Samuel Rapapa, to push for the amendment of parliamentary Standing Order Number 111 to enable legislators to vote in secret on a motion of no confidence against a sitting prime minister are said to have thrown the pro-Thabane camp and the ABC’s governing allies into a state of panic.
Some government and ABC sources told this publication that the motion to indefinitely adjourn the sittings of the National Assembly was a direct response to Mr Rapapa’s motion, which despite the latter’s repeated denials, is seen by Dr Thabane’s loyalists as part of an elaborate move by the new NEC to get rid of Dr Thabane because of his apparent support for the old NEC. Mr Rapapa is the incoming chair in the new NEC.
Fully aware of the alleged plot to oust him, sources within the ABC said that Dr Thabane moved to indefinitely adjourn parliament and give his ailing party a chance to deal with its internal conflict and avert a split and collapse of the coalition government.
And in what appeared to give credence to such claims, Dr Thabane summoned ABC legislators to the parliament building on Tuesday (a day after parliament was adjourned) where he announced plans to form an interim committee to mediate between the warring ABC factions and come up with solutions to end their power struggle.
The notice of motion which was filed last Thursday by Mr Moleleki states that “notice (is) given on Thursday 28 March 2019 for Monday 1 April 2019…that this honourable house adjourns sine die(indefinitely)”.
However, on Monday, against all expectations, the motion was not debated and at the close of proceedings at 6:30pm, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Teboho Lehloenya, simply announced that the National Assembly had been adjourned indefinitely in line with the National Assembly’s standing orders.
According to Standing Order #18, the speaker or his deputy is allowed to indefinitely suspend the sittings of the National Assembly if at the official time of the closing of parliament, a motion has not been debated or voted on.
And on Monday, the motion was not debated by 6:30 pm and acting in accordance with the Standing Order #18, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Lehloenya simply announced the indefinite closure of parliament without a vote on the issue.
Announcing the indefinite adjournment of parliament, Mr Lehloenya urged the legislators to use the time off “wisely and make meaningful contributions to the multi-sector reforms process”.
The motion for the indefinite adjournment of parliament had been placed as the ninth and last on the order paper for the motions due to have been moved on Monday. Only six of the motions had been tabled and discussed by the National Assembly by the close of proceedings at 6:30 pm.
The Monday sitting began with Mr Lehloenya announcing that two former members of parliament Nyebe Tsibela and Mokebe Masenyetse had passed on and the deputy speaker gave the legislators about two hours to pass condolence messages.
Thereafter the Thaba-Bosiu legislator, Thabo Sophonea, was given the floor to table the report of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) delegation to the First Ordinary Session of the Fifth Parliament of the PAP in Rwanda last October.
This was followed by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Temeki Tsolo, who responded to an “urgent question” by Mpharane legislator, Phutuhelo Mafereka, who wanted to know if the minister was aware that two people who provided donkeys to transport food to Moseneke Primary School in Mohale’s Hoek in the years 2015 and 2016 had not been paid for their services to date.
The two are Kelebone Mosala who is owed M960 for the use of 32 donkeys while Bokang Malapane is owed M780 for the use of his 26 donkeys.
The member of parliament for Qaqatu, Lethusang Kompi, then asked the Minister of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation Leshoboro Mohlajoa if he was aware that the government’s land reclamation effort to introduce vegetation in bare areas and to stop soil erosion, through the catchment initiative was failing to achieve its ultimate goal.
Another motion which was debated and passed was for the renaming of the Main North I and Main South I Roads after former Prime Ministers Chief Leabua Jonathan and Dr Ntsu Mokhehle respectively.
The national assembly also resolved to name the Quthing to Qacha’s Nek Road after Chief Nehemiah Maseribane, the Mpiti to Sehlabathebe Road after Dr Pakalitha Mosisili and the Marakabei to Monontša Road after Dr Thabane.
The parliament concluded its business after debating and passing a motion to urge the government, in particular, the Ministry of Police and Public Safety, to curb the incidents of suspects being tortured and dying in police custody.
These motions lasted up to about 6:30 pm at which time Mr Lehloenya announced that the National Assembly had been indefinitely adjourned.
The indefinitely adjournment of parliament means that Mr Rapapa’s motion for the amendment of the standing order to allow parliamentarians to vote in secret when a vote of no confidence motion has been moved against a Prime Minister will not be put to vote until parliament reconvenes. It also means that a no confidence motion cannot be moved against Dr Thabane by any of the disgruntled ABC MPs or the opposition. The indefinite closure also gives the ABC time to resolve its infighting.