Major defections rock parties ahead of polls

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

FINANCE Minister Thabo Sophonea has dumped the governing All Basotho Convention (ABC) for opposition leader, Nqosa Mahao’s Basotho Action Party (BAP).

The outgoing Thaba Bosiu legislator is not the only high-profile individual who has left their party. Former cabinet minister and outgoing Semena MP, Tlohelang Aumane, has ditched the Sam Matekane-led Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) for the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) led by Teboho Mojapela.

Some sources close to the political players said these and other defections signal the opening of floodgates after the recent dissolution of parliament, wherein more opportunistic politicians could dump their parties for new homes ahead of the 7 October 2022 elections.

But the biggest defection so far is that of Mr Sophonea who was unveiled at a well-attended BAP rally in Thaba Bosiu this week. He was unveiled alongside Maseru District Administrator, Mpane Nthunya, who was formerly of the ABC as well.

Mr Sophonea was widely regarded as a loyalist of Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, a man who he succeeded as finance minister.

However, Prof Mahao said it would be wrong for the media or anyone else to say that Messrs Sophonea and Nthunya had defected to his party. The two “had always been BAP members,” Prof Mahao told an estimated 3000 crowd at the Thaba Bosiu rally.

Their defections seemingly confirm Prof Mahao’s claims last year when he and 10 MPs ditched the ABC to form the BAP. He said at the time that other MPS who sided with them would remain in the ABC to avoid being kicked out of their jobs in government. He had said they would only jump ship when the time was right. Probably this is now the right time considering that parliament was dissolved a fortnight ago by His Majesty, King Letsie III.  Mr Sophonea is also set to keep his job until after October as his quitting of the ABC will have no bearing on his role as finance minister.  The ABC remains split and its leader Nkaku Kabi has no power over those ministers who have remained in the cabinet and loyal to his arch foe, Dr Majoro

Meanwhile, former Development Planning Minister Aumane has dumped the RFP barely four months after joining it from the Monyane Moleleki-led Alliance of Democrats (AD). The SR is his fourth party in just five years. He won the Semena constituency on a Democratic Congress (DC) ticket in the June 2017 elections. Shortly afterwards, he defected to the AD after being promised a cabinet post in the then Thomas Thabane-led four party coalition featuring the ABC, AD, Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

In early April this year, he and several other AD bigwigs including Dr Phamotse, defected to the RFP.

Following his loss last week in the RFP primary polls to another former cabinet minister, Joshua Setipa, Mr Aumane has now dumped the party for the SR.

Asked to comment on his latest move, Mr Aumane said he had dumped the RFP because the party had ignored his concerns about irregularities which he said marred the primary election he lost to Mr Setipa.

“The RFP’s treatment of people in the constituencies during the primary elections was very bad,” Mr Aumane said.

“In my native Semena constituency for instance, there was an irregularity in that the votes cast were more than the number of people who actually voted. The constituency committee has ignored our complaints. I suspect they don’t care about people because they did not recruit any of us to their party,” Mr Aumane said.

Another former RFP member who has also dumped the party is former principal secretary for Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation, Shoetsane Seoka. Mr Seoka had also joined the RFP from the AD.

He lost in the primaries for the Thaba-Moea constituency which he represented back in 2012.

He said he had joined the RFP at the instigation of his supporters but had since resolved to dump the party due to lack of transparency in its leadership.

“Having joined the RFP, I learnt that there was no democracy in it. We were treated as kids who could not make their own decisions. When we contested in the primaries, we were surprised to learn that the elections committee included some NEC members who already had their own interests. We registered our complaints but we were told not to bring our habits from our old parties as they (NEC) were the ones who had the final word. This came as a shocker.

“We don’t have a problem with losing. However, the challenge is the lack of transparency,” Mr Seoka said. He was rumoured to have joined the SR as well. He however, said he would only decide whether or not to join the SR after meeting his supporters on Sunday.

There is a likelihood of more defections from the RFP after the recent primaries and last week’s controversial interviews of the top four candidates in each of the constituencies.

The NEC eventually chose one individual from each of 69 constituencies as the final candidates to represent the party in the forthcoming October national polls. The RFP leader and 10 of his closest allies had already given themselves the nod to represent the party in their constituencies without having to undergo any primaries. The move has been slammed as dictatorial by some party supporters.

Some like Dr Phamotse had won the primaries only to lose out in the interviews.  Dr Phamotse joined seven other losing candidates at a press conference in Maseru this week where they pledged their loyalty to the RFP despite being snubbed by the NEC in the interviews which followed the primaries.

The seven others are ‘Mampho Tjabane-Seutloali (Stadium Area constituency), Moloi Ralentsoe (Makhaleng), Chopho Lekholoane (Khafung), Mohakajane Monate (Hlotse), Kobeli Letlailana (Lithoteng), Thabo Moloi (Machache) and ’Mammako Mohale-Lerata (Matelile).

Speaking on behalf of his fellow losing candidates, Mr Letlailana said they felt compelled to speak out and clear the air due to widespread rumours that they would all ditch the RFP.

“We are here to rubbish allegations that all members who contested and came first in the primaries have left the party after losing out in the subsequent interviews,” Mr Letlailana said.

“However, we can’t deny that there are some, maybe two or three who have since left. We can’t name them because they still have not announced themselves.”

He said while they were willing to support those who had been chosen by the NEC, the party still needed to explain to their disgruntled supporters what criteria it had used to discard them after they had triumphed in the primaries.

“When we got to our constituencies, we found a lot of confusion and dissatisfaction among our members due to the results that had just been announced. These people voted for us in our respective constituencies and they need to understand how the meritocracy scale which was used to choose the final list of candidates worked. They want to be given the report compiled by experts who chaired the interviews, they also want a document explaining the criteria which was used and a report explaining how the leader (Matekane) made the final decisions.

“Those documents will quell their dissatisfaction and doubts that there was no transparency. People have started leaving in numbers across all constituencies. Therefore, those documents will help restore trust among RFP members and Basotho at large. The RFP stands for transparency, anti-nepotism, and anti-corruption. The people want to see the party practicing what it preaches,” Mr Letlailana said.

On her part, Ms Tjabane-Seutloali said people in 30 constituencies were unhappy with the outcome of the processes to choose party candidates.

But the press briefing and talk of unity was seemingly a show because some of the losing candidates subsequently told this publication in confidence that they would contest their rejection by the party in the courts of law.

They vowed to “teach Matekane about democracy and respect for the electorate”.

“We are not going to let this matter rest just like that. We have already submitted our letters and if he (Matekane) and his NEC fails to address our grievances by Friday (tomorrow), Matekane and his NEC will know who we really are.

“He may have all the money but he doesn’t have what it takes to be part of a democratic dispensation.  We will drag him to court. If he doesn’t address our issues, then it’s his loss,” one of the candidates said.

 

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