Drama as ABC “pulls out” of coalition

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  • Kabi blocks Minister Sophonea from presenting budget citing “collapse of govt”,
  • As rival ABC MPs exchange blows,
  • While Mapesela relaunches no confidence vote.

’Marafaele Mohloboli/Bereng Mpaki/ Moorosi Tsiane

LESOTHO is again in crisis after newly-elected All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Nkaku Kabi and his faction thwarted the unveiling of the 2022/23 national budget amid a bevy of chaos in parliament yesterday.

Mr Kabi then dramatically announced that his party had “withdrawn” from the current governing coalition in which it is the lead party alongside the Democratic Congress (DC).  Three other smaller parties also constitute the coalition.

Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea – a member of Mr Kabi’s own ABC-was supposed to present the 2022/23 budget speech yesterday after postponing his delivery last week citing the need to tighten up the figures.

But Mr Kabi and his ABC faction, which has been at war with Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro over the latter’s refusal to make way for him, after his January 2022 election as leader of the fractious party, would not let the budget speech go ahead. In a bizarre and embarrassing episode, Mr Kabi went as far as wrestling Mr Sophonea for his tablet to prevent him from reading the speech.

As the chaos unfolded and as parliament was allowed to degenerate into something resembling a playground of juvenile delinquents, opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s youthful spokesperson, Thuso Litjobo, grabbed the podium which had been set up for Mr Sophonea to deliver his speech.

For a moment it looked as though he was going to use the wooden lectern as a weapon to beat the living daylights out of the minister. But it soon became clear that he just wanted to make sure that it would not be used for the speech.

Like a wayward lout, after removing the lectern, he then returned and snatched Mr Sophonea’s briefcase in clearly spirited efforts to sabotage and embarrass the minister to ensure he did not read the budget speech at all.

Still, the worst was yet to come.

In the typical manner of rival playground bullies, ABC MPs Temeki Tšolo (Mafeteng constituency) and Leshoboro Mohlajoa (Malimong) charged at each other like mad bulls and started exchanging blows before they were restrained.

In the end, the budget speech was not presented and it remains to be seen if it will be tabled anytime soon. Failure to pass the budget will further adversely affect the work of the government which has been failing to pay suppliers.

Equally, if not more importantly, the coming days will also show if Lesotho still has a functional government. While Mr Kabi insisted that an ABC caucus had met and agreed that the party should pull out of the government, other senior ABC MPs disputed his version of events. Those who led the charge against the ABC leader were chairperson, Samuel Rapapa, and Forestry and Soil Conservation Minister Motlohi Maliehe.

They even challenged Mr Kabi and his allies to stand up and cross over to the opposition benches if they had the numbers, they claimed to possess to affect the pullout from the government.

Even though they did not cross over, it became clear that they will continue fighting Dr Majoro after the latter refused to give up the premiership in the aftermath of losing the ABC leadership contest to Mr Kabi. What the Kabi faction lacks in support from within its party ranks, it will seek to make up by aligning with opposition MPs.  But it remains unclear whether it will master the numbers to topple Dr Majoro.

It is nonetheless clear that the Kabi faction is in bed with the AD and former ABC MP, Tefo Mapesela, who refiled a fresh no confidence motion against Dr Majoro late last night.

 

How it all began   

On a bright sunny Wednesday morning, parliament quickly became a hive of activity as MPs from all political parties represented in the august house began streaming in in anticipation of the presentation of the proposed budget by Mr Sophonea. They were joined by their Senate colleagues for what was meant to be a joint session.

By 9am, everyone had taken their seats and the media cameras were rolling in anticipation of the budget speech. But in a hint of things to come, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, announced that the house had been temporarily adjourned to enable him to meet with leaders of all political parties represented in parliament over a letter he said had been given to him by one of them. The meeting was held in Mr Motanyane’s boardroom.

An hour and 45 minutes passed before Mr Motanyane and the leaders of the political parties returned to the august house.

Instead of summoning Minister Sophonea to present his long-awaited budget speech, Mr Motanyane then dropped a bombshell.

 

Bombshell

The ABC caucus had written to him to inform him of its decision to pull out of the governing coalition it has led since May 2020, he said.

The letter written yesterday morning by the ABC caucus and read by Mr Motanyane stated the following: “In its seating of 2 March 2022, the ABC caucus has resolved to withdraw the party from government and the coalition agreement with the Democratic Congress”. The letter was signed by the ABC’s Mohlajoa in his capacity as the caucus secretary.

But in a clear testament of the raging fires of infighting and the resultant lack of consensus in the ABC, the party’s Butha-Buthe legislator and forestry minister Motlohi Maliehe, stood on a point of order and challenged the letter.

He said he was a member of the caucus and at no point did it ever agree to withdraw the party from government. Therefore, Mr Mohlajoa’s letter was not a true reflection of the party position, he said.

“As a member of the caucus, I was not present in any meeting that agreed to leave the coalition,” Mr Maliehe said.

“It is therefore not true that the ABC caucus has resolved to leave the government as has been said. I am perplexed and had this been the case, the author of the letter ought to have indicated how many members were present at the caucus and how many agreed and how many disagreed with the plan to leave government,” he added.

His sentiments were echoed by Mr Rapapa who is also the Communications, Science and Technology minister.

Mr Rapapa demanded that ABC MPs who backed the alleged move to pull out of the government stand up and be counted. But none did.

Instead, ABC leader Kabi stood up and confirmed that the contents of the letter that had just been read were a true reflection of the party’s position.

“The ABC is no longer part of the current coalition government. We are leaving the coalition as a party and not individually. It is that simple,” Mr Kabi said. He spoke in a relaxed manner, never rushing any of his words but releasing each slowly as if to give the audience enough time to savour each and every one of them so as not to miss his message.

Mr Motanyane then said he would not meddle in the ABC’s affairs and he asked the party to resolve its own issues before the proceedings could resume.

“I don’t want to meddle in the ABC’s issues and therefore I will leave this matter for them to resolve,” Mr Motanyane said.

Instead of resolving the issue as per Mr Motanyane’s advice, everything then degenerated into chaos from that point onwards.

In the din of voices that ensured, some MPs were heard shouting that the speaker should ignore the ABC ructions and proceed with the business of day while others wanted everything to stop.

Never one to shy away from trouble, Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP) leader Mapesela then told the house that the ABC’s withdrawal simply meant that the coalition government had collapsed and no longer existed.

Therefore, the budget speech could not go ahead, he said.

On his part, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) legislator Thabang Kholumo (Qalo constituency) implored the house to follow proper procedure for adjourning the session, failing which they should allow Mr Sophonea to present the budget.

In all the turmoil and confusion, the one thing that was clear was that Dr Majoro still had the support of the party’s cabinet ministers like Messrs Rapapa, Maliehe and Sophonea among others.

Mr Sophonea then attempted to read the budget but was immediately interrupted by Mr Kabi who wrestled the finance minister’s tablet away from him. The tablet contained the speech. With the tablet in Mr Kabi’s possession, Mr Sophonea could not continue with his speech.

Further pandemonium then ensued with various MPs standing up to each other, some to defend Mr Sophonea and others in support of Mr Kabi.

At that point the AD’s Litjobo grabbed the podium and ran off with it to prevent Mr Sophonea from taking to it to deliver his speech.

He returned a short while later and grabbed Mr Sophonea’s briefcase as well. The whole episode appeared to him to be an occasion of fun.

But the real violence was to come when Messrs Tšolo and Mohlajoa squared off to exchange blows. Other MPs stepped in to separate them.

Even the usually collected Mr Sophonea lost his cool and attempted to land an uppercut on Mr Tšolo’s jaw. In his quest to dodge the blow, Mr Tšolo staggered backwards and almost fell after tripping on the desks behind him.

By then, the AD legislators who were firmly in Mr Kabi’s corner began chanting in defiance and seemingly in celebration of the fact that they had successfully stopped the presentation of the budget.

Mr Motanyane left during the commotion and never returned. The budget presentation did not go ahead as planned.

 

The aftermath

Later on, Mr Kabi was not reachable for comment on the day’s events and to comment on what his faction planned to do next given that there was still resistance from the Majoro camp to its plans to withdraw the ABC from the government.

On his part, AD leader, Monyane Moleleki, said the ABC had indeed withdrawn from the coalition and this meant that the government had collapsed.

Therefore, the budget speech could not be presented as planned, he said.

He said in any event, the government did not have the moral authority to present a new budget as it had failed dismally to fulfil the promises made when the last budget was presented last year.

DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, nonetheless laughed off the purported ABC pullout, saying the coalition was still intact.

“As far as the DC is concerned the coalition government still exists. Toppling a government is a game of numbers, and the ABC does not have enough numbers to do so,” Mr Qoo said.

He said it was clear that only a small fraction of the ABC supported the purported pullout.  He said since senior ABC officials like Messrs Maliehe and Rapapa had questioned the authenticity of the letter announcing the withdrawal from government, the Kabi faction should now test their strength by tabling a no confidence motion against the government.

The challenge to the government’s detractors to table a no confidence motion was taken up last night. Not by any of the serving ABC MPs but a former party stalwart, Mr Mapesela.

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