ABC chooses Rapapa as next Prime Minister

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  • amid fierce resistance from some ABC MPs,
  • as party SG Hlaele, dubs decision “final”.

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE All Basotho Convention (ABC) has nominated its chairperson Samuel Rapapa to succeed Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who is stepping down at the end of July or earlier.

This is according to ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele who told the Lesotho Times that the party’s national executive committee (NEC) had settled on Mr Rapapa “and the decision is final”.

However, Mr Rapapa’s ascension to the top job is by no means assured after some senior ABC officials including ministers Chalane Phori and Tefo Mapesela vowed to oppose his nomination with the latter allegedly saying they will not let the NEC bully them into accepting “a lunatic for prime minister”.

The duo and some ABC legislators are said to be backing Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to take over from Dr Thabane.  Mr Mapesela is said to have threatened to find another candidate if Dr Majoro spurns the nomination to succeed Dr Thabane.

The embattled Dr Thabane, who faces charges of murdering his estranged wife, Lipolelo, first announced on 16 January 2020 that he would be stepping down after more than 50 years in active politics and in the civil service.

The 80-year-old Dr Thabane said he was stepping down because of that long service and advanced age and not because of the murder charges. Last week, he said that he would retire at the end of July this year or much earlier if his party agreed on his successor.

His impending departure is already causing serious problems within the ABC whose NEC has chosen Mr Rapapa out of its three-person shortlist which also included ABC deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi and deputy spokesperson ‘Matebatso Doti.

Even then, some party stalwarts who are not members of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) including ministers, Dr Majoro (Finance), Prince Maliehe (Public Works) and Tefo Mapesela (Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation) were also said to be eyeing the top job.

But after several meetings among NEC members and with ABC legislators over the course of the month, Mr Hlaele this week said the NEC had finally settled on Mr Rapapa to succeed Dr Thabane and the decision was final.

“The NEC as the supreme body with powers to run the ABC and make decisions in between congresses, has made a decision to nominate Mr Samuel Rapapa as the next prime minister and that is final,” Mr Hlaele told the Lesotho Times this week.

“The NEC has collectively decided that Mr Rapapa will take over when the prime minister (Dr Thabane) leaves and I am conveying this decision as the party’s secretary general.

“All ABC members of parliament are deployees of the ABC and they take their mandate from the party. This means that they are not independent and they cannot make their own decision (on the succession). Therefore, the NEC has decided and there is no confusion regarding the succession whatsoever except that there are people who want to confuse themselves.”

Mr Hlaele said all that was left was for the NEC to inform their coalition partners and the speaker of the national assembly, Sephiri Motanyane of their choice of Mr Rapapa. The ABC is the main party in the governing coalition which also comprises of Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD), Communications Minister Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL). Once the speaker of parliament has been informed of the coalition partners’ choice, he will in turn inform the Council of State who will then advise His Majesty King Letsie III to appoint the new prime minister.

He said the party had hoped that Dr Thabane would leave office before the re-opening of parliament on 21 February 2020 but they had no choice but wait for Dr Thabane to go at the end of July as he announced last week. He said their push for Dr Thabane’s early retirement was not borne out of malice but to shield him from the scrutiny and negative publicity in the aftermath of the murder charges brought against him and his wife, ‘Maesaiah Thabane.

“We wanted the prime minister to vacate office by 20 February 2020, ahead of the opening of the parliament but he refused and announced that he would only be leaving in July.

“We were not pushing for his departure out of malice but we only wanted to protect him from the dark cloud of murder allegations hanging above his head and the embarrassment that he is now faced with. His being hauled before the courts of law has brought so much shame to us as a party as we still consider him our leader and we have an obligation to protect him.

“But as things stand, there is nothing we can do except continue talking some sense into him because we know that there are some people around him who are influencing him to cling on to power.”

The NEC’s choice of Mr Rapapa has been endorsed by Ms Doti, Mr Kabi and others who had hoped to succeed Dr Thabane.

Yesterday, Ms Doti told the Lesotho Times that she had “no problems giving my full support to Ntate Rapapa”.

“Having realised that the succession issue was causing differences within the party, I actually decided to withdraw and make room for him (Mr Rapapa) and suggested that we adhere to the principle of seniority,” Ms Doti said.

Mr Kabi, who was tipped for the position but had always made it clear that he would support Dr Majoro, also said he had no problem supporting Mr Rapapa.

“We (the NEC) have decided to work together on the succession but now there are 33 MPs who have taken us by surprise and are in disagreement as they want their own successor. However, as the NEC we have decided to take our own route and we are going to work together with the next successor (Mr Rapapa),” Mr Kabi said yesterday.

‘Matšepo Ramakoae, the ABC’s legislator for Matsieng who had been nominated by some legislators to succeed Dr Thabane, said, “Should Ntate Rapapa be nominated, I won’t have a problem with him because I have worked closely with him on various platforms and I know that he is a hard worker and a team builder”. “All that he (Mr Rapapa) needs to do is to surround himself with people who have the nation’s interests at heart and not just people who will serve their personal interests,” added Ms Ramakoae.

Dr Majoro also suggested that he was ready to back Mr Rapapa.

“I am aware that there are people who wanted me (to succeed Dr Thabane) but then again the party members are the ones who make decisions and the party will pronounce itself on that. I am ready to support any transparent democratic process so supporting him (Mr Rapapa) wouldn’t be a problem,” Dr Majoro told this publication yesterday.

However, Mr Rapapa’s ascension to the top job is by no means assured. Some senior ABC officials including legislators and ministers Phori and Mapesela are leading the charge against him. The garrulous Mr Mapesela is said to have vowed they would not be bullied into accepting “a lunatic for prime minister”.

On Monday the NEC met ABC legislators in Maseru to inform them of the choice of Mr Rapapa but the meeting was characterised by serious disagreements with some legislators demanding that Dr Majoro be nominated instead.

Prior to the Monday meeting, an audio recording surfaced where Mr Mapesela appears to describe Mr Rapapa and his allies as “jokers”, adding, “we will not allow Mahao to run the ABC with a remote controller”.

“When Ntate Thabane retires we are going to put Majoro in his place and we are going to do that as MPs and not the NEC,” Mr Mapesela says in the audio.

“And if Majoro is stupid (enough to decline the nomination to succeed Dr Thabane), then that’s his own problem. Should the coalition partners intervene in the ABC (succession) issue, we shall find other people to work with us in government because we have the most seats in parliament.”

Mr Mapesela said the ABC’s NEC had no right to tell the legislators what to do and “no one shall tell us anything about seniority in the party”.

This was in response to Mr Hlaele saying Mr Rapapa deserved to be succeed Dr Thabane by virtue of being the most senior eligible party candidate.

“I’m hearing people talking trash about party seniority and these are lunatics saying all this. However, we legislators shall decide as we want and we won’t have a lunatic for a prime minister,” added Mr Mapesela.

Efforts to get hold of Mr Mapesela to comment further on the audio were futile as his mobile phone rang unanswered.

On his part, Mr Phori said they would not accept the NEC’s choice of Mr Rapapa.

“There are two factions (the Thabane and Mahao camps) in this party and we are in the middle of a reconciliation exercise which is now being frustrated by this process of coming up with a successor.

“The NEC is bungling the whole process and if seniority is anything to go by, it means I should have also have been nominated in the first place because I come after Rapapa as deputy chairperson and I am also a minister. We, the members of parliament, are the ones who will decide who should succeed Ntate Thabane and he (Dr Thabane) should also be involved in choosing his successor.

“The legislators have not nominated anyone to succeed Ntate Thabane as yet, and their (NEC’s) dream (of having Mr Rapapa as the successor) will never see the light of day. We shall vote in parliament and the prime minister will announce his successor,” charged Mr Phori

“This (NEC) committee is full of itself and we have not even (fully) reconciled as warring factions. They are just driving their own agenda.”

Mr Phori said Dr Thabane could even stay on in power until his term ends in 2022.

“In as much as the leader (Dr Thabane) has announced his departure, he was not precise that he was talking about end of July 2020. He could leave next year in July or in 2022 when his term comes to an end,” said Mr Phori.

 

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