Fierce battle over BNP leadership looms

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‘Marafaele Mohloboli

DAGGERS have been drawn in the Basotho National Party (BNP) amid indications that party leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and his deputy, Machesetsa Mofomobe, will bump heads for the top position at the party’s upcoming elective conference.

Chief ‘Maseribane is constitutionally precluded from running for the party’s leadership position again because he has served the maximum allowed two terms. But he now faces accusations of engaging in political skullduggery to have members demand a change of the constitution to facilitate his plans to cling to power.  He might as well succeed. Party sources said he convened party members at his Maseru West home on Sunday to lobby them to demand an amendment to the BNP constitution to allow him to contest again.

Repeated efforts to obtain a comment from Chief ‘Maseribane were unsuccessful this week until the time of going to print as his mobile phone rang unanswered. He also did not respond to written questions sent to him.

On the other hand, Mr Mofomobe is playing his cards close to his chest, saying it would be premature to let the cat out of the bag.

However, authoritative party sources this week told the Lesotho Times that Chief ‘Maseribane and Mr Mofomobe were destined to contest for the leadership post in June.

The sources claimed Chief ‘Maseribane had already expressed his desire to continue leading the party notwithstanding the two-term limit clause.

He has reportedly instructed constituencies aligned to him to write letters to the national executive committee (NEC) ahead of its 10 March 2021 meeting.

The BNP’s NEC will meet on 10 March 2021 while the party will hold its annual conference two weeks later from 26 to 28 March.

Petitioners aligned to Chief ‘Maseribane want the NEC to include the matter of amending the constitution on the agenda for the conference. They want conference delegates to discuss a request for a special dispensation for Chief ‘Maseribane to enable him to remain in office.

If the constituencies’ wishes are granted, Chief ‘Maseribane and his once trusted second lieutenant will bump heads at the elective conference as Mr Mofomobe is also being lobbied to contest for the same position.

The sources who preferred anonymity, because they are not allowed to discuss internal party matters in public, alleged that Chief ‘Maseribane’s election bid had gained momentum after he convened the meeting of his trusted constituency representatives at his home on Sunday.  The attendees are now sold to his idea of clinging to power.

“He advised the constituency representatives to write letters and submit them before 10 March, ahead of the NEC sitting to ensure the issue of his clinging to power is put on the agenda for the conference,” a source said.

“This is to ensure that the conference will deliberate and decide on amending the constitution to facilitate his intent to contest the elections.”

The source also claimed that Chief ‘Maseribane, who is the current Minister of Small Business Development and Cooperatives, was unhappy with Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s decision to reshuffle him. He was previously Communications Science and Technology minister.

The source claimed that Chief ‘Maseribane was also accusing Mr Mofomobe of keeping Dr Majoro’s plans to reshuffle him a secret although he knew about them.

“He is accusing Machesetsa of choosing to keep his eventual reshuffle a secret despite the fact that he was fully aware that he was going to be reshuffled. This has muddied the once rosy relationship between ‘Maseribane and Machesetsa,” said the source.

Another source claimed that Chief ‘Maseribane was accusing Mr Mofomobe and party secretary general (SG), Tšepo Lethobane, of canvassing in the constituencies by promising to allocate party officials positions earmarked for the BNP in the government.  The two deny the allegations. They say they are not aware of any positions earmarked for the BNP in the current coalition government.

The source claimed that Chief ‘Maseribane was also unhappy that the November 2019 conference held in Mazenod, Maseru, had assigned certain tasks to Mr Mofomobe which he wanted for himself as party leader.

“This included the development of the BNP site where the head office is situated. The project was directly entrusted in the hands of the deputy leader (Mofomobe) but the leader fought that and wanted to handle the whole development project which remains fruitless as we speak.

“For reasons known to him, the leader has also refused to open a bank account for the party’s bursaries just because bursaries are directly manned by the SG (Lethobane). With all this in play, Chief ‘Maseribane has even failed to pay his party dues of M1000, mandatory for all the party’s members of parliament,” stated the source.

While Chief ‘Maseribane was unavailable to comment, Mr Mofomobe could neither confirm nor deny that he was planning to run for the leadership post. He said it was premature for him to talk about the matter as the leadership post was still occupied by Chief ‘Maseribane.

“BNP is an organisation that is run in a professional manner. No one is allowed to contest for a seat that is not vacant. This means I cannot comment on whether I’m going to contest for the position of BNP leader because the seat is not vacant. But as soon as the NEC pronounces itself on the vacancy, I won’t hesitate to tell you if I’m running or not.

“The issue of whether the current leader should run for the third term is provided for in the constitution, it is written in black and white. The constitution bars anyone from contesting for more than two five-year terms. We have a two-term limit. Having said that, if members of the BNP want to amend the constitution to remove the two-term limit, it is their choice to do so. Though I don’t support that, in a democracy we must accept decisions of the majority and I will have no choice if the majority decides that.

“I have on many occasions accepted the decisions of the majority. I lost youth league elections in 2004 and I accepted. I lost Thetsane #33 constituency to Dr Majoro and I conceded. Even on this one, I will concede if the majority decided otherwise,” Mr Mofomobe said.

Meanwhile, Mr Mofomobe also refuted allegations that Chief ‘Maseribane was sitting on the party’s developmental projects.

“The NEC tasked the leader and I to collaborate on the development of the BNP centre. We are still working on that and it’s not something that can be done overnight as it involves a lot of things i.e. architects, property developers and evaluators. It would therefore be wrong to say the leader is holding it back,” Mr Mofomobe said.

He also rubbished claims that there were government posts earmarked for BNP supporters.

“We have monthly meetings with the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and in one of our meetings, the ABC secretary general (Lebohang Hlaele) told us bluntly that BNP would not get any Home Affairs posts as they would be shared between them (ABC) and DC.

“As for anyone who thinks I knew anything about the reshuffle, they are weak minded. It is the prerogative of the prime minister to reshuffle and expel ministers without advancing any reasons. Dr Moeketsi Majoro is the premier and not Machesetsa Mofomobe. Neither am I his deputy. I am just my party’s deputy leader. If I were to be reshuffled or expelled tomorrow, I would toe the line and respect the decision of the head of government, instead of going around blaming other people,” Mr Mofomobe said.

On her part, BNP spokesperson, ‘Masetota Leshota, said the NEC had already received the requests that the 26 to 28 March conference should discuss party succession.

Ms Leshota said the NEC had rejected those requests because it would be unfair on Chief ‘Maseribane as his tenure is only ending on 12 June this year.

“We have received the petition but unfortunately, it is not possible to entertain that request because the leader’s tenure would still be valid and that wouldn’t be fair for him. This will be tackled at the elective conference (in June),” Ms Leshota said.

In a separate interview, Mr Lethobane also acknowledged receiving the petitions. He could only say preparations for the March conference were underway.

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