Thabane faces ouster
- as Mahao faction tables no confidence motion
- DC backs motion
Ntsebeng Motsoeli/Pascalinah Kabi
PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane’s grip on power is now hanging by a thread after a parliamentary no confidence motion was filed against him yesterday.
The motion was filed by All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislator for Koro-Koro constituency, Motebang Koma. It was immediately seconded by the Democratic Congress (DC)’s deputy leader Motlalentoa Letsosa.
Mr Koma proposed that the ABC’s Mosalemane constituency Member of Parliament (MP), Samuel Rapapa, takes over as caretaker prime minister, presumably pending processes that would lead Professor Nqosa Mahao to assume the reins of power.
The no confidence motion is the culmination of the protracted war of attrition between the newly elected national executive committee (NEC) of the ABC fronted by Prof Mahao and the old NEC which has steadfastly refused to vacate office. Prof Mahao is not a legislator and could therefore not be nominated to replace Dr Thabane despite his election as the latter’s deputy at the party’s contentious February 2019 elective conference.
On his part, Mr Rapapa said that he had been consulted on the motion and was ready to take over from Dr Thabane.
“My name was not just put forward for caretaker prime minister. I was consulted beforehand and I am up for the task of leading this country. I didn’t join politics just to go to rallies and dance to political music. I joined politics and contested elections to lead and I believe I am ready to take over,” a confident Mr Rapapa said yesterday. There is another school of thought which, nevertheless, believes that Mr Rapapa cannot assume the premiership, even if the motion against Dr Thabane succeeds, because he is not a leader of a political party as outlined in the law.
The no confidence motion is the product of several months of infighting in the ABC, precipitated mainly by Dr Thabane and the old NEC’s refusal to accept the election of Prof Mahao as deputy leader.
Prof Mahao clinched the deputy leader’s post at the ABC’s 1-2 February 2019 elective conference which also saw Mr Rapapa coming in as chairperson and Dr Thabane’s son-in-law, Lebohang Hlaele winning the post of secretary general.
But four months later, Prof Mahao and his colleagues have still not been allowed into office by the old NEC, fronted by its secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele.
Dr Thabane last week said he did not even consider Prof Mahao a member of the ABC. There was therefore no way he should be parachuted to the second most powerful party post ahead of seasoned ABC stalwarts, the premier charged.
However, Prof Mahao appears to be gaining ground in the fight to lead the ABC after the Court of Appeal trashed a judgment by Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase nullifying his election. Prof Mahao also appears to be in good stead to win a separate court case, currently in the High Court, challenging his election, judging by the nature of the proceedings and the manner in which the judges are taking the lawyers representing Prof Mahao’s opponents to task.
Buoyed by these developments, Prof Mahao came out guns blazing over the weekend and gave Dr Thabane a week to allow the new NEC into office or face a no confidence vote in parliament (see page 7). The gatvol Mahao faction seems to have decided to expedite making good on the threat well before the expiry of the week. The motion was filed ahead of today’s expected closure of parliament for the winter break until 13 September 2019.
Mr Koma yesterday confirmed filing the motion, telling the Lesotho Times that the ABC infighting had gone on for “far too long and it was now time for drastic measures”.
“It is true that I filed a no confidence motion against the Prime Minister,” Mr Koma said, adding, “We have been patient with him for too long and we now need to take drastic measures against him”.
Mr Koma’s Koro-Koro constituency originally nominated Prof Mahao for the deputy leader’s post and fought a spirited battle to catapult him to the top post despite equally determined efforts to thwart him.
The Mahao faction enjoys the support of at least 20 legislators who appended their signature to the March 2019 petition calling on Dr Thabane to intervene and resolve the ABC power struggle in favour of the new NEC.
If all opposition parties vote in favour of the no confidence motion, alongside these 20 pro-Mahao ABC MPs, then the no confidence motion will succeed with at least 70 votes out of 120. The DC has 26 MPs, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) has 11 while the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) has six seats. The Popular Front for Democracy has three seats while four other opposition parties have a seat each. Judging by the growing antipathy of the opposition parties against Dr Thabane’s coalition, it is unlikely that any opposition MPs will support him to stay in power.
And if yesterday’s developments are anything to go by, then reports that Dr Thabane could forge a deal with the DC to forestall Prof Mahao appear baseless. This because the no confidence motion was backed by none other than the DC’s deputy leader, Mr Letsosa. He too confirmed the filing of the no confidence motion.
“It is true that I seconded the motion which was filed today (yesterday) and the name of (Samuel) Rapapa has been put forward as candidate for the post of prime minister,” Mr Letsosa said.
He said supporters of the motion now expected the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, to handle the matter “in a proper manner” by first acknowledging the filing of the motion as required by regulations before tabling it for debate and voting
“We expect him (Mr Motanyane) to announce that he has received our motion today (yesterday) and it should be debated this week,” Mr Letsosa said.
He appeared unfazed by the fact that Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House, Monyane Moleleki, is today expected to move a notice for the adjournment of parliament until 13 September 2019 for the winter break.
At the close of yesterday’s parliamentary proceedings, presided over by Deputy Speaker Teboho Lehloenya, no mention had been made of the motion of no confidence against Dr Thabane.
Mr Letsosa insisted all was on track, telling this publication that “we still have tomorrow (today) and we are not backing down”.
On his part, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) secretary general, Teboho Sekatle, said although his party had not discussed and taken a common position on the issue, he would personally vote against Dr Thabane.
The motion against Dr Thabane was filed in accordance with Standing Order 111 which states that any member of parliament may move a motion of no confidence against any sitting PM and their government.
According to parliamentary rules, once the motion has been filed at the office of the speaker of the national assembly, the speaker is expected to direct clerks to type the motion and make all necessary preparations for it to be tabled and debated in parliament.
Sources within the national assembly yesterday told this publication that Mr Motanyane had already directed the clerk of the national assembly, Fine Maema, to ensure that the motion is typed.
However, an official within Dr Thabane’s inner circle yesterday said the premier and his supporters were hopeful that he could still dodge the bullet because Mr Rapapa was not a leader of a political party.
The official said their own interpretation of the law was that Section 87 of the constitution only allowed a leader of a political party to be designated as caretaker prime minister.
“We are crossing our fingers that the motion will not succeed because of this technicality….. We also still have time to find a political solution in the four months that parliament will be closed for the winter break,” the source said.
Another official concurred: “there are some mistakes in the filed motion. Ntate Rapapa is not a leader of a political party and that disqualifies him for the role of caretaker prime minister”.
Section 87 (2) of the constitution 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.”
If the vote against him succeeds, Dr Thabane also commands two options to either resign within three days of the motion or advise King Letsie 111 to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections. The latter is seen as the most likely scenario as Dr Thabane has declared he want to rule for two full terms until 2027.
If successful, the ouster of Dr Thabane would mean that his will be the fourth successive government to collapse just two years into its five year tenure. Dr Thabane’s first government collapsed in 2015 just two years into its five tenure. It was replaced by a coalition led by Pakalitha Mosisili which won the February 2015 elections with a slender majority. Dr Mosisili lost a no confidence motion in March 2017 leading to the June 2017 snap elections which returned Dr Thabane to power.