ABC in crisis over Thabane succession

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  • infighting forces party to postpone vote and announcement of successor
  • Thabane threatens to appoint own successor

’Marafaele Mohloboli

BARELY three weeks after All Basotho Convention (ABC) factions loyal to party leader, Thomas Thabane, and his party deputy, Nqosa Mahao, buried the hatchet, the ruling party is once again at the crossroads and experiencing serious divisions.

This time the fight is over who will succeed Dr Thabane as Prime Minister when the latter steps down on a yet-to-be announced date. So serious are the divisions that the party has been forced to shelve plans to announce a successor from a three-person shortlist comprising of party chairperson, Samuel Rapapa, deputy spokesperson, ‘Matebatso Doti and deputy secretary general, Nkaku Kabi.

Mr Kabi said the voting for the nominee should have been done on Monday but serious divisions have rocked the party with some members calling for the nominations for Dr Thabane’s successor to be opened up to include all ABC legislators in the National Assembly.

The party’s national executive committee (NEC) has said that seniority counts and only those legislators who are members of the NEC should be considered hence the three-person shortlist comprising of Ms Doti and Messrs Kabi and Rapapa.

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

Sources said they have been mobilising support among fellow party legislators with the aim of gatecrashing the nominations.

There is also pressure from some legislators for the nomination of former Deputy Minister of Finance, ‘Matsepo Ramakoae, as a compromise candidate because she allegedly steered clear of the factions which backed Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao in their year-long battle for control for the party until a truce was declared three weeks ago.

According to Mr Kabi, Dr Thabane has even warned that if the infighting continues, he may be forced to step in and name his own successor.

At the same time, there are no guarantees that an ABC nominee will succeed Dr Thabane amid reports that coalition partner and Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, is mobilising support from the opposition, particularly, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in a bid to assume the top job.

A fortnight ago, the 80-year-old Dr Thabane announced that he would soon be retiring due to his “waning stamina” after more than five decades in civil service and active politics.

He did not give a date for his impending retirement which many are ascribing to intensified pressure from his own party, the opposition and non-governmental organisations in the wake of damaging allegations by Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli implicating him in the 14 June 2017 murder of his former wife, Lipolelo.

However, ABC Secretary General, Lebohang Hlaele, last week told this publication that the party wants the veteran leader out before the opening of parliament either on 14 or 21 February 2020. Mr Hlaele said the party’s NEC would work with ABC legislators to identify a successor who would then be presented to the National Assembly.

Over the weekend, party Spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, said the processes to identify Dr Thabane’s successor were underway and former Social Development Minister, Ms Doti was a frontrunner along with ABC chairperson Samuel Rapapa and Health Minister, Nkaku Kabi.

“We, the ABC’s NEC, have been entrusted with the administration of the party and we have to give guidance on the succession,” Mr Masoetsa said, adding, “We have to agree with the ABC legislators on the successor before presenting the party candidate to our coalition partners”.

“We are now at a point where we shall meet all the ABC MPs and submit to them the list as suggested by the NEC. All those who were nominated have motivated their submissions.” He added that all three candidates were part of the NEC which was voted into office at the party’s February 2019 elective conference.

However, the three-person shortlist is by no means final as Mr Masoetsa this week said the nomination process would have to continue throughout the week with the likelihood of more names being added to the shortlist.

“We are likely to see the list of names getting longer but at the end of the day one name will be picked,” Mr Masoetsa said this week, adding, “This is not a process which can be completed overnight”.

On his part, Mr Kabi yesterday told this publication that factions had reappeared within the ABC and the party was seriously divided about the nominations process which ought to have been concluded on Monday.

He said Dr Thabane was worried about the infighting and had warned that if the process was not concluded soon, he would be forced to step in and appoint his own successor.

“The voting ought to have been concluded on Monday but it never happened. But the bottom line is that a name is needed soon and the prime minister has made it clear that if he is not given a name timeously, he shall appoint someone to take over.

“We have not met again since Monday and it is up to the ABC MPs to take charge. I urge them to expedite this process because the prime minister has made it known that the delays will leave him no choice but to choose a name and he will be labelled undemocratic. Either he will pick me or ‘M’e Doti or come up with a new name altogether. Maybe he (Dr Thabane) is only saying that to exert pressure on the party to expedite the process,” Mr Kabi said.

He said he and other legislators wanted the process to opened up so that even those MPs like Dr Majoro who were not members of the NEC can contest.

He said if that were to happen, he would gladly stand aside and support Dr Majoro’s candidature as he believed the latter had all the attributes to become prime minister.

“The Secretary General (Mr Hlaele) is adamant that only NEC members shall contest for the premiership and we told him that this sort of thing only happened in the African National Congress in South Africa and not in the ABC.

“I will give way to Dr Majoro if MPs are given a chance to contest the succession but if the nominations are limited to members of the NEC, I will remain in the race. However, the race should be between ‘M’e Doti and I because even though Mr Rapapa was nominated, he was not seconded by anyone. This means that he was not properly nominated and as such he cannot stand.

“We still have party factions which we have not totally overcome. We still have camps and my only fear is that if I withdraw now and only NEC members contest, I would have denied my camp a chance to succeed the prime minister.”

Mr Kabi said Mr Rapapa was ineligible to contest because his nomination failed to get any backers in the NEC. He said the chairperson could only contest if the nominations were opened to all legislators, adding other than that the contest was now a two-horse race between him and Ms Doti.

“The NEC is trying to work together but as far as I can see we still have camps in there. It is also likely that the Mahao faction is having its own problems because they are divided over Mr Rapapa. Mr Hlaele told the party caucus that he (Mr Rapapa) would not be a part of the succession race,” Mr Kabi said.

Last night Mr Hlaele rejected Mr Kabi’s claims that Mr Rapapa had been disqualified on account of his alleged failure to get backers for his candidature. He said Mr Rapapa was still in the running and the list of candidates was likely to increase after submissions from the legislators.

On his part, Mr Rapapa yesterday insisted that he was still in the running and he would not back down for anyone.

“I am still in the succession race regardless of how anyone else interprets the nomination process,” said Mr Rapapa.

Some party sources have said Mr Rapapa had the edge as he had already been nominated to succeed Dr Thabane when the faction which was loyal to Prof Mahao filed a no confidence motion against Dr Thabane in June 2019. The motion will no longer be pursued after the ABC factions agreed to re-unite three weeks.

However, other sources said that Mr Rapapa’s biggest undoing could be his association with the Mahao faction in its fight against Dr Thabane. They said for that reason, he was not a neutral candidate who was above factional politics. The sources said in any event, he no longer enjoyed the full support of the Mahao faction as shown by the nomination of fellow Mahao loyalist, Ms Doti.

They said Ms Doti had strong claims to the top post because she had demonstrated her maturity by working hard to re-unite the party despite being fired from cabinet by Dr Thabane for supporting Prof Mahao in the power struggles which ensued after the party’s February 2019 elective conference.

On her part, Ms Doti is brimming with confidence. This week she told the Lesotho Times that it was time the nation had a female prime minister and she was more than ready for the top job.

“Basotho are ready for a female prime minister. They have said it over and over again. We have had many male prime ministers and they have not done much for this nation. People are ready for change and if I were to succeed Dr Thabane, the two years that are left of his term would be enough for me to showcase what women are capable of. This is the time for a female prime minister to open up opportunities for young women and girls. Women are powerful and capable,” Ms Doti said.

Party sources said while Mr Kabi was in with a chance, his biggest handicap could be his association with Dr Thabane camp. The sources said “choosing him would give the impression that Dr Thabane would be pulling the puppet strings from behind the scenes even after retirement because Mr Kabi had been firmly in the State House camp.”

Meanwhile, some ABC legislators are rooting for the party’s Matsieng legislator, ‘Matsepo Ramakoae, to succeed Dr Thabane.

The ABC’s Maama legislator, Mankoe Maime, told this publication that they preferred “a neutral candidate like Ms Ramakoae” replacing Dr Thabane.

“We are working to reunite the party and it would be wrong to have anyone who is perceived to be from one faction becoming the prime minister. I prefer ‘Matsepo because she is neutral and she would become our first female prime minister,” Mr Maime said.

On her part, Ms Ramakoae said, “I am one of the suitable candidates. I can become the next prime minister if the procedures of selection are followed”.

“I can become prime minister if they (the NEC) decide to pick a parliamentarian because the law says the premier should be a member of parliament who has the support of the majority of people in parliament.

“My party has the majority. I am a member of parliament for Matsieng, I have my own constituency. I can be elected. I have experience in politics. I’ve been in the civil service for a long time. I have also been in parliament. I am the chairperson of the Women’s Caucus in Parliament. I am also the chairperson of the Regional Women’s Caucus of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)…So, I have the experience to hold the post.

“Another issue is that this is a man’s world. Men want to do things on their own and they think that they are the only ones who could actually do things better. Fortunately, my national executive committee wants to give a woman a chance. I applaud them for that, because they have a good vision,” Ms Ramakoae said yesterday.

Meanwhile, some ABC sources said they had received information that Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki was also eyeing the premiership and has been holding meetings with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and other opposition parties to canvass their support for his nomination in parliament.

“Things are not as rosy in the coalition and everyone is power hungry and looking out for their own welfare. We have heard that Ntate Moleleki is trying to lure opposition MPs, especially from the LCD to support his bid to lead a government of national unity,” said one source.

Commenting on the issue, LCD spokesperson, Apesi Ratšele, said, “There are people who have approached us and there are ongoing talks. But I cannot reveal their identities lest we jeopardise the talks.”

“Nothing is impossible in Lesotho’s politics. As the opposition, we have to make some calculated moves and well-thought out decisions. We are aware that the relations among the coalition partners are not as good as they used to be and we are just going to play smart and watch as things unfold until such time when we are convinced that we have numbers (to influence a change in government,” Mr Ratšele said.

However, AD spokesperson, Thuso Litjobo, denied the claims that his party leader was canvasing for the opposition’s support in his bid to replace Dr Thabane.

“I don’t know of any talks between my leader (Mr Moleleki) and any opposition leader. I don’t know of any plans by my leader intentions to replace the prime minister, but I know for sure that a prime minister is elected in parliament,” Mr Litjobo said yesterday.

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