. . . as audio clip claims nine MPs planning to defect to DC
THE All Basotho Convention (ABC) has moved to quell a possible revolt from the party’s Berea legislators protesting the appointment of only one member of parliament (MP) from the district as a minister.
The discord prompted ABC leader, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, to hold a crisis meeting earlier this week with MPs from Berea district after a leaked audio clip claimed that nine of the lawmakers were on the verge of defecting to the opposition party Democratic Congress (DC).
The ABC formed government earlier this month along with the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) after the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections resulted in Lesotho’s third consecutive hung parliament.
Berea district yielded the second biggest haul for the ABC in the elections, with nine seats out of the 11 contested. The ABC won the most seats in Maseru with 15 seats out of the 18 contested in the district. The ABC garnered a total of 48 seats, while the AD won nine, BNP five and RCL one.
Last Friday, 26 ministers and deputy ministers were sworn-in by Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara and Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi, with 17 of them being legislators from the ABC. The AD, which had notched nine seats in the polls, added to its ranks the DC’s Semena constituency MP, Tlohelang Aumane, who was appointed as Development Planning minister.
More ministers are expected to be appointed after a special Senate meeting to elect the upper house’s president, vice-president and members scheduled for next Tuesday.
However, the appointment of one legislator from Berea did not go down well with the MPs from the district who felt they deserved more recognition for the party’s electoral performance.
ABC legislator for Khafung #23 constituency in Berea constituency, Habofanoe Lehana, was appointed as Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs minister.
The other Berea legislators are Fako Moshoeshoe (Mabote), Litšoane Litšoane (Bela-Bela), Likopo Mahase (Khubetsoana), Mohlajoa (Malimong), Motlatsi Maqelepo (Berea), Hlomelang Lefu (Makhoarane), Samuel Rapapa (Mosalemane) and Tšoeu Molise (Tšoana-Makhulo).
The discontent was laid bare by an audio clip that circulated on social media networks in which an unidentified woman – claiming to be a member of the ABC’s Berea election committees – says party supporters in the district held a meeting with their legislators.
“We discussed the fact that our legislators were not appointed to a ministerial position and we made a decision to defect to the DC,” the woman says.
“We need to make Ntate Tom see that we are not fools. It’s unfair that he did not reward our (MPs) loyalty and decision to stick with the party through thick and thin.”
She also claims that they were planning to have a meeting with the DC to “make the decision official” and thereafter hold a big political rally to make the announcement.
A source privy to the matter told the Lesotho Times that the claims made in the audio clip should not be taken lightly.
“The ABC shouldn’t take this matter lightly and I am glad Ntate Thabane acted fast to address the matter,” said the source who requested anonymity to avoid reprisals.
“It is true that we are not happy with how ministers were appointed. We thought we were going to get more than one ministerial position because we have always been loyal to the ABC.”
The source added that the same Berea legislators were linked to former ABC deputy leader Tlali Khasu and that this threat must not be taken lightly.
Mr Khasu parted ways with the ABC last December after losing a protracted court battle to revoke his suspension from the party’s National Executive Committee by Dr Thabane.
He went on to form the True Reconciliation Unity (TRU) party along with former Motimposo legislator Pitso Maisa.
In January this year, 12 legislators from the district held a press conference pledging their allegiance to Dr Thabane and shooting down rumours they would join the TRU.
“You will remember that when the TRU was formed by two former ABC MPs, there were allegations that all ABC legislators from Berea district would join them.
”Some people claimed that the legislators chickened out in joining the TRU at the last minute, and this latest issue is building up from that underlying discontent.”
Contacted for comment, Malimong #22 legislator Leshoboro Magents Mohlajoa denied the veracity of the claims made in the audio clip.
“It is unfortunate that an audio clip of a woman claiming to be a member of an ABC committee in Berea district has gone viral,” he said.
“It is not true that we held such a meeting or were planning to defect to the DC. These are blatant lies orchestrated by people who want to sow divisions in the party to ensure that this government collapses.
“We are trying to establish the identity of this woman and I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to learn that she was not an ABC card-carrying member or even a follower.”
Narrating the events that led to the meeting with Dr Thabane, Mr Mohlajoa said all the nine Berea MPs held a meeting last Saturday to map a way forward ahead of the by-elections in two Berea constituencies of Teyateyaneng and Thupa-Kubu scheduled for later this year.
The Independent Electoral Commission declared failed elections in three constituencies after ABC candidate for Thupa-Kubu constituency, Afrika Makakane, BNP candidate for Hololo constituency, Matela Leakae, and Popular Front for Democracy candidate for Teya-teyaneng #24 constituency, Makalo Jack Mohapi died ahead of the 3 June 2017 National Assembly polls.
As a result of the deaths, the electorates in the constituencies did not vote for the constituency candidates but for the parties they supported for the purposes of proportional representation allocation.
The ABC collected the most votes from the two Berea constituencies, and Mr Mohlajoa said they were working hard to ensure that the party won the seats in the by-election.
“We needed to come up with a united message for both the by-elections and local government elections because we have always been working together to ensure that the party wins constituencies in this district,” he said, adding that they had also met to discuss how best they could make people understand that winning constituencies was not a ticket for ministerial positions.
Mr Mohlajoa said he and the other legislators were “shocked” by the claims made in the audio clip, adding that it prompted him to arrange an urgent meeting with Dr Thabane.
“I immediately called Ntate Thabane and asked for a meeting to iron out the issues and he agreed to the meeting. We met on Sunday and discussed this matter at great lengths, and I must point out to you that there are no problems,” he said.
“No ABC MP from Berea wants to leave the party and we are working on a strategy to address our followers in the district and make them fully understand that being a parliamentarian is not a guarantee for a ministerial position.”
Mr Mohlajoa added: “Social media played a pivotal role in ousting Ntate Mosisili’s government and we will not allow the same thing to happen to us. We are working tirelessly to get to the bottom of this matter and to ensure that it is put to rest.”
ABC spokesperson Tefo Mapesela would not be drawn to comment on the audio clip when contacted yesterday, saying the matter had been finalised after the MPs had disavowed the recording.
Meanwhile, Dr Thabane had stressed in his final star rally ahead of the 3 June 2017 polls that the responsibility to appoint ministers lay with the prime minister.
“As the prime minister, I will choose my cabinet from these people (elections candidates) standing before you and you will need to respect that because I am not a fool who will just appoint people to fill ministerial positions,” Dr Thabane had said.