How will the PM be elected this time around?

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Sofonea Shale
Sofonea Shale

By Sofonea Shale

THE enthusiastic public reaction to the swearing-in ceremony of Members of Parliament (MPs) has demonstrated that people are following the process with keen interest. The key issues that got the attention of many, was the election of the Speaker of the National Assembly before MPs had taken the oath and the unexpected decline of the ABC-BNP-RCL bloc voting on the position of the Speaker and the Deputy.

In a similar vein, Basotho are anxiously waiting to see the election of the prime minister by Parliament. This article makes a contribution in the on-going public debate by providing light on some issues but also raising questions whose responses by the relevant people may be educational.

It is a well-accepted culture that MPs or Senators may not take part in the business of the House(s) before taking oath. However, Basotho have seen MPs electing the Speaker before taking an oath. This reminded many of the time when the prime minister was nearly sworn in before taking an oath as an MP.  Though it is quite logical and perhaps within legal provisions to think this way, the question is whether it was correct for the MPs to elect the Speaker before taking the oath or not?  The Constitution of Lesotho in Section 71(1) reads as follows: “Every member of either House of Parliament shall, before taking his seat in that House, take and subscribe the oath of allegiance before the House, but a member may before taking and subscribing that oath take part in the election of the President or the Speaker.”

This means there is nothing wrong in terms of the law with the procedure that parliament followed in the swearing-in ceremony for the MPs and election of the speaker and deputy.  This may raise issues like how different the election of the Speaker/President is from the rest of the business of the House which cannot be handled before taking oath. However this may be a matter for constitutional debate and not the procedure that many people were concerned about.

On the basis of the ABC-BNP-RCL MPs, it was expected that in the absence of Dr Motloheloa Phooko who is expected to take oath later if ever he still intends to go ahead with his membership of parliament, the bloc vote for these parties would give 54 but it ended at 53. The immediate question was who voted against his or her party among the 54 present members of this coalition of parties that may assume opposition role? Perhaps some light should be shed on this one. Every MP has a right to vote the way he or she believes is correct.

This right is however used within an accepted culture of towing the party line. This is where members of the same party in parliament agree in what is known as party caucus to vote in a certain way on a particular issue. Normally, the party caucus is supposed to be the heated debate place but history has shown that in Lesotho it has been used by the party leadership and cabinet members to coerce members into endorsing things they would otherwise freely choose not to. It is expected that party members should support the position of the party when they exercise their free right to vote. In other parliaments, MPs demonstrate their discontent right in the caucus and tell the party that they would use their conscience. In that way, the decline vote does not come as a surprise.  While this framework may be helpful in empowering people to figure out what could have happened, it is even wiser to take a closer look at the context.  Not that the ABC and RCL are free from intraparty discontent but the recent rift within the Basotho National Party over the submission of the PR list to the Independent Electoral Commission that ended up in the courts of law, puts it in the limelight.  The Secretary General who was taken to court by the Party Chairperson for submitting to the IEC the party list that includes his name instead of the one believed to have been drawn by the party that did not include his name, becomes the immediate suspect in the eyes of many. While this may be a general and perhaps a strong feeling, there are high chances of an alternative narrative. Since the voting was done through a secret ballot anyone who wants to demonise the Secretary General for the purposes of fuelling the internal discontent, may have easily voted differently knowing quite well that all eyes will look at the easy suspect.  There is also another possibility that this has got nothing to do with BNP but one of the Members in this collective could have felt that Hon Ntlhoi Motsamai and Hon Montšuoe Lethoba were better candidates than their opponents and therefore voted accordingly.

Whether this has been done by the Secretary General of BNP as many suspect or it is another perpetrator, or by another member of the collective, the net effect is that it opens doors for weakened parliamentary input not only for single organisations but the collective too.  Perhaps this calls for the immediate strategic introspection and visioning for the maximum and coherent input of the collective.

What Basotho are expecting with keen interest again is how the election of the prime minister by parliament will be consummated given the flawed process since 1993 on this important issue. Section (7) (c) of the National Assembly Electoral provides that the IEC shall inform the Speaker of the election results.  Though no written law says how the Speaker should use the election results, the logic provides that since the Speaker is the member of the council of State, will notify it of the same hence the council would be in a position in terms of Section 87(1) to advice the King on who to appoint as the Prime Minister.

Section 87(2) of the constitution which reads: “The King shall appoint as the Prime Minister the member of the National Assembly who appears to the Council of State to be the leader of the political party or coalition of political party leaders that will command the support of a majority of the members of the National Assembly” has not been properly applied since 1993. In terms of this provision, the prime minister will first be appointed on the basis of what appears to the Council of State to be the situation that will obtain in parliament. In other words such an appointment would be of a prime minister designate, the position he or she will hold until parliament would have sat and demonstrated whether or not that PM designate really commands the support of the majority of the House.

Will this Section be used differently from the normal misapplication? Will Parliament be set to either confirm or reject the prime minister designate or will it be that what was done at Mosikong oa Thaba in 2015 just like what was done at the hotels in the previous years since 1993 will be taken to be the decision of National Assembly on who commands majority?

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