Battle for Senate leadership
Pascalinah Kabi and ‘Marafaele Mohloboli
A SPECIAL Senate meeting to elect the upper house’s president, vice-president and swearing in members has been postponed for the third time at the 11th hour amid allegations the delay was meant to allow the coalition government to weigh in on the candidate for the presidency.
Sources privy to the goings on in the upper house tell the Lesotho Times the postponement was also meant to enable outgoing Senate President, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, time to canvass for enough votes to retain the position in light of expected competition from two other principal chiefs.
However, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso yesterday told this publication he was indeed working to retain the post but was unaware of the reasons for the postponement.
The special Senate meeting was initially scheduled for 21 June 2017, before being abruptly postponed to 29 June 2017. That date was also changed at the 11th hour to 4 July 2017 before it was postponed indefinitely this week.
Apart from electing the Senate president and deputy, the special meeting also swears-in 22 principal chiefs and 11 senators nominated by King Letsie III on the advice of the Council of State.
The special meeting is normally held a week after the National Assembly’s first meeting to enable the appointment of ministers and deputy ministers chosen from the upper house.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was inaugurated on 16 June 2017, with 22 ministers and four deputy ministers sworn-in a week later from the National Assembly.
However, ministers for the portfolios of Home Affairs, Police and Public Safety, Tourism, Environment and Culture as well as Energy and Meteorology are yet to be appointed from the Senate.
The sources, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the special Senate meeting postponement was meant to give Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso more time to canvass for more support. Tough competition for the Senate presidency, the sources said, was expected from Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief Khoabane Theko and Likhoele Principal Chief Lerotholi Seeiso.
Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso is also the principal chief of Matsieng and King Letsie III’s younger brother.
“It seems Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso is not comfortable with the number of votes he has so far and his camp is working hard to ensure they go into the special Senate with a comfortable margin to retain the position,” the sources said.
“In 2015, all the principal chiefs agreed to one presidential candidate. But this time around, three of them are contesting for the same position and that complicates matters.”
Contacted for a comment yesterday, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso said: “Yes, I would like to retain the presidency position and I am working on that. But I am not aware of this claim that I could be the cause for the postponement.”
For his part, Chief Theko denied contesting for the Senate presidency in an interview with this publication yesterday, adding that he was informed that Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki had issued the instruction to postpone the meeting.
“We were told that the deputy prime minister gave an instruction to postpone the meeting to give his three coalition government partners an opportunity to pronounce themselves on their preferred candidate for presidency,” Chief Khoabane said.
Mr Moleleki is the leader of the Alliance of Democrats, which formed a coalition government last month with Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention as well as the Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho led by Public Service Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane and Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo respectively.
The four parties joined forces after the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections produced a hung parliament.
Dr Thabane and Chief Maseribane were expected to arrive in the country yesterday from the 29th biannual African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Chief Theko said the coalition government had a “preferred candidate” for the Senate presidency.
“This is the first time in our history to hear that we need to wait for politicians to pronounce themselves for the business of the Senate to proceed,” he said.
“We are surprised because the special Senate meeting is supposed to be held immediately after the National Assembly has met.”
Chief Theko continued: “I will not mention names, but the decision (to postpone the special Senate meeting) was made based on their preferred candidate’s interests. There was a clear indication that one of the candidates was not comfortable with their number of votes so far.”
The Thaba-Bosiu principal chief said contesting for the Senate presidency would deprive him of the opportunity to contribute to debates in the upper house.
“I love debating and contesting for the Senate presidency would deprive me of the opportunity to meaningfully contribute in the upper house,” Chief Theko added.
Attempts to get a comment from Mr Moleleki were fruitless as his mobile phone was constantly unreachable.
Meanwhile, Senate Clerk Khotso Manamolela told this paper the Senate’s special meeting could only be held after King Letsie III had issued a gazette.
“How do you say a meeting was postponed when His Majesty never issued a gazette summoning the meeting of the Senate to elect the president, their deputy and swearing in of the senators,” Mr Manamolela queried.
“The most important thing here is for His Majesty to make an announcement of the Senate sitting through a gazette and until today, that has not happened.”
Mr Manamolela said the gazette would soon be published, adding that the Senate office would make an official announcement to that effect.
Asked if savingrams calling and postponing the Senate meeting, purportedly issued by Government Secretary Lebohang Ramohlanka, were fake, Mr Manamolela said “you should not believe anything you see on social media because they will burn down this country”.
A savingram circulating on social media purportedly from Ms Ramohlanka to Mr Manamolela — and dated 19 June 2017 — states: “Kindly be advised that we have been instructed to call for the postponement of the Special Meeting of Senate that was scheduled for Wednesday 21st June 2017.
“The Honourable Attorney-General is already on the withdrawal gazette that was issued to this effect. A new date will be communicated as soon as it has been finalised.”
Another savingram also circulating on social media, and purportedly from Ms Ramohlanka dated 27 June states that the meeting would be held on 29 June 2017.
“Please be informed that, pursuant to Section 82 of the Constitution of Lesotho, His Majesty King Letsie III summons Senate to meet on Thursday 29th June 2017 for the election of the President of the Senate and Vice President of the Senate and the swearing-in of new Members of Senate.”
A third savingram, also dated 27 June 2017, states that the special Senate meeting had been postponed to 4 July 2017.
All the three savingrams were addressed to Mr Manamolela but notably did not have an official stamp.
Attempts to authenticate the savingrams were fruitless as Ms Ramohlanka’s mobile phone constantly rang unanswered.