THE political crisis brewing in the All Basotho Convention (ABC), if unchecked, will not only split the party, but also bring down the coalition government with calamitous consequences for national stability and socio-economic development, analysts have warned.
The warning comes against the backdrop of similar concerns by the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) that the infighting in the ABC, which is the main party in the governing coalition, could spell a premature end for the Thomas Thabane-led government. The current coalition was formed in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 elections and it has a five-year mandate until 2022.
As pointed out by the CCL, similar conflicts in major parties in previous governments have all ended not only with the collapse of their regimes. They have also resulted in unbudgeted for elections at the cost of human development while the resultant instability has claimed many lives.
Speaking at a press conference in Maseru this week, various CCL leaders including Bishop Daniel Rantle spoke of the church’s pain as it observed “the current self-serving, self-enriching politics that are never people-centred, so much that when there are conflicts, Basotho choose not to solve issues but instead go their separate ways and destabilise both the government and the country”.
The CCL raised its concerns amid the escalating infighting in Prime Minister Thabane’s ABC in the aftermath of its national executive committee (NEC) elections on 1 and 2 February 2019.
National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao was elected deputy leader at the party’s elective conference. He beat a strong field of contestants that included Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, Public Works and Transport minister Prince Maliehe and former party chairperson, Motlohi Maliehe.
Others who made it into the new NEC are: Lebogang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Chalane Phori (deputy chairperson), Nkaku Kabi (deputy secretary general), Tlali Mohapi (treasurer), Likhapha Masupha (secretary), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and ‘Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson).
However, Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC have not been able to assume office due to a court challenge by two cabinet ministers, Habofanoe Lehana (Trade and Industry) and Keketso Sello (Mining) and the ABC’s legislator for the Rothe constituency, Mohapi Mohapinyane.
A fortnight ago, the trio obtained an interim order barring the new NEC from office pending the finalisation of their main court application seeking the nullification of the election results. The trio want fresh elections on the grounds that the 1 and 2 February polls were marred by serious irregularities.
This week, the CCL chairperson, Archbishop Tlali Lerotholi O.M.I, said they were especially worried by the political disputes that had been taken to the courts of law.
“In as much as we are the clergy, it must be understood that we are also Basotho and the national governance issues, especially those political issues that have been taken to the courts by our leaders have left us worried. We are in a state of crisis,” Archbishop Lerotholi said.
The CCL’s deputy chairperson, Reverend Tšeliso Masemene, aptly summarised the implications of the infighting within the ABC on the party, the government and the nation as a whole.
Reverend Masemene said the coalition government’s future was dependent on the stability of the main coalition partner (in this case the ABC) and history had taught them that infighting within the main coalition partner could have negative consequences on the stability of the government.
“This is not the first time that we are issuing a warning as we did so during the previous government. The minute a leading coalition partner experiences internal fights, the fights never end within the party but they spill into the national governance and we all know that this does not sit well with Basotho.
“We also draw from the historical background of this country that when that happens, some people end up losing their lives. Very painful things happen in this country due to political instability and while all these political fights are taking place, the country becomes poorer.
“We all know that elections are now coming after every two to three years but no one ever sits down to ask if we ever budgeted money for the elections. Where do we get the election money from? Do we really want to go back to the elections again? We will end up being an election-oriented country that never has time to deal with social issues affecting its people. We are a prophetic voice and ours is just to advise,” Reverend Masemene said.
Even without prophecy or a crystal ball, it does not take the wisdom of a rocket scientist to appreciate that the failure to resolve its escalating internal conflicts could result in the split of the ABC. It happened as recently as 2017 when former Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader Monyane Moleleki who had left the party with several legislators, teamed up with the then opposition to bring down Pakalitha Mosisili’s seven parties’ coalition. This was just two years into Dr Mosisili’s five-year mandate which should have ended next year in 2020.
NUL lecturer Mahao Mahao concurred with Reverend Masemene on the likely implications of the infighting within the ABC, saying the intra-party conflict had created a sense of “panic among the people and the euphoria of June 2017 when the elections ushered in a new dispensation has completely died down”.
He said the ABC leadership seemed oblivious to the likely consequences of their failure to resolve their internal conflicts even if the consequences were so apparent for everyone to see. He said criminal suspects had sensed the likelihood of a collapse of the government. Hence the recent court application by murder-accused, former Defence minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, former army commander Tlali Kamoli and 14 others, challenging the appointment of foreign judges to try their cases.
The other 14 applicants are Thabo Tšukulu, Mothibeli Mofolo, Mabitle Matona, Rapele Mphaki, Pitso Ramoepana, Lekhooa Moepi, Mahlele Moeletsi, Mahlomola Makhoali, Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Liphapang Sefako, Nemase Faso, Tieho Tikiso and Litekanyo Nyakane.
They want the appointment of the foreign judges by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) nullified on the grounds that it is unconstitutional as the JSC “acted under duress” from the executive in appointing the judges.
But the real reason of instituting the legal action could be that these suspects want to buy time in anticipation of a collapse of the current Thabane led coalition. A new government excluding the ABC and its current partners, if elected, could then set them free.
Mr Mahao said, “there is a sense of despondency and huge disappointment among the people”.
“People are beginning to sense the collapse of this government. It is probably just a matter of time before the parliamentarians become agitated and they may caucus against what now appears to be abuse and excess by the one entrusted to lead.
“Even the court challenge against foreign judges by the imprisoned members of security agencies is a result of the awareness of a hobbling government that bears signs of collapsing. They believe this could usher in a new one that could be friendlier to their cause. When a government is as confused as ours at the moment, everyone will take advantage.
“In fact, those who see the government with its pants down will pull the pants further down to undress it completely. In the final analysis, the entire drama is playing right into the hands of the opposition who are now emboldened to castigate the government further and capitalise on its glaring weaknesses. There are visible signs that control is slipping away from those entrusted to lead and that they are beginning to hit out left, right and center in a totally uncoordinated fashion,” Mr Mahao said.
University of Limpopo public law professor, Hoolo Nyane, warned that the conflict in the ABC could get nastier as the new NEC could fight back by mobilising the rank and file of the party against Dr Thabane and the old NEC.
Prof Nyane further warned that the new NEC’s fight back could lead to the collapse of the coalition government which was founded on the shaky foundation of a wafer-thin majority in parliament.
The ABC, the main party in the coalition cobbled up its 52 seats with the Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s nine, the Basotho National Party (BNP)’s five and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL)’s one, enabling them to pass the 61-seat threshold required to form government in the 120-seat National Assembly. All in all, the four-party coalition have a combined 67 out of 120 seats. This is a very slim majority which could be easily erased if only six legislators cross the floor to the opposition.
“We are likely to see the new NEC fighting back using their strength,” Professor Nyane said.
“The strength they may want to unleash is two-pronged. They may want to use the strength of the rank and file of the party because clearly, they have the numbers as evidenced by their winning the party’s 1-2 February elections.
“Secondly and more dangerously, even though it’s not yet clear how strong they (new NEC) are in terms of numbers, the current coalition was built using a hair’s breath majority through collecting defections from the opposition. So, there are legislators in the ruling caucus who are sitting in parliament waiting for the right time to fight the government.
“Just 10 MPs are enough to bring down the government if they get angry to the extent of wanting to impeach the PM. The coalition government is standing on a very thin majority,” Prof Nyane said.
Another analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity said Dr Thabane was not helping matters by failing to decisively pronounce himself on the impasse in his party.
If anything, the analyst said, Dr Thabane had aggravated the situation by attempting to curry favour with both the old and new NEC.
“Dr Thabane was quoted in the media as welcoming the election of the new NEC as a reflection of the will of the majority of the ABC members. But instead of instigating a handover of power to the new NEC, he has gone on to fire two ministers (Lebogang Hlaele and ’Matebatso Doti) who are part of the new NEC and said to be close to Prof Mahao.
“This only serves to fuel the conflict. Dr Thabane must come out clearly because he cannot be all things to all men. Just like in the old African adage, one cannot walk on two divergent paths at once. You must choose one and stick to it. Without a clear pronouncement, the two ABC factions will continue their war with deadly consequences for the party, government and nation,” the analyst said.
Prof Nyane concurred saying, the conflict was likely to escalate as the “two ministers who have been fired occupy critical positions in the new NEC and might use their positions to fight back”.
“I do not know why the prime minister chose to fire the ministers. Perhaps he acted on the advice of the losing NEC. It does not look like the decision to fire them is the prime minister’s own thinking because his interests have to be stability and a strong government,” Prof Nyane said.
He said there were three likely scenarios that would result from the impasse in the ABC.
“Now there are only three options, one of these being the reconfiguration of the composition of the government which could mean new coalition partners.
“The second one is that of fresh elections and the third and highly unlikely one is where the ABC rivals bury the hatchet.
“Elections are a very likely scenario but it will also depend on how the opposition DC conducts itself. You would think they (DC) would close ranks with the disgruntled members of the ABC and become king makers,” Prof Nyane said.
It remains to be seen how the fellow coalition partners or even the opposition will react.
In recent interviews with the Lesotho Times, the BNP and the AD have said they will not take sides in the ABC conflict. They further expressed hope that the warring party rivals would eventually resolve their differences for the sake of the government’s stability.
Similarly, opposition Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader, Selibe Mochoboroane this week said the ABC must either fix its own mess or prepare to accommodate the opposition in a transitional government whose major role would be to steer the reforms process and ultimately prepare the country for fresh elections.
But as Prof Nyane suggested, the final course of action of the ABC’s fellow coalition partners or that of the opposition could be determined by how the ABC conflict plays out.
The other parties will look to see how their interests would be best served by the outcome of the ABC conflict.
However, should the ABC fail to resolve its differences, analysts are in agreement that a split with disastrous consequences for the government and more importantly the nation is in the offing.