Majoro fight back intensifies ABC war

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. . . as PM fires Kabi while Phori and Masoetsa are arrested for sedition,

. . . PM’s allies launch court bid to stop all moves to oust him

Mohalenyane Phakela/ Pascalinah Kabi

PRIME Minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader, Moeketsi Majoro, has come out guns blazing in his quest to defeat his ABC rivals and retain control of both party and government.

In addition to refusing to resign after being recalled last week by the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC), Dr Majoro has fired Agriculture and Food Security Minister Nkaku Kabi who was chosen as his replacement by the NEC.

This was followed by the Monday arrest of ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa and deputy chairperson Chalane Phori for alleged sedition in connection with their statements confirming that Dr Majoro had been recalled from the prime minister’s post.

As part of his multi-pronged approach to remain in office, Dr Majoro’s allies have now launched an urgent constitutional application to stop ABC leader and former premier Thomas Thabane from “unconstitutionally” ousting him.

The application was filed in the Constitutional Court this week by top ABC members, Tlali Mohapi and Keketso Lepheane. Mr Mohapi, a staunch Majoro ally, is also challenging Mr Thabane’s claims that he (Mohapi) resigned his post as party treasurer two months ago.  Mr Lepheane is the suspended ABC chairperson for the Butha-Buthe constituency.

In their court papers, the duo begs the court to stop the ABC from recalling Dr Majoro, saying the “unconstitutional” move “not only threatens the stability of the country but has far reaching consequences on security, investment and public order of the state”.

“The authority of the Honourable Court is consequently required to protect the constitutional values of the rule of law, to order compliance with the constitutional principles and values, and maintain the integrity of the constitution,” Messrs Mohapi and Lepheane argue.

THE ABC’s NEC, the ABC, Mr Thabane, Law and Justice Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane, Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), all political parties, Dr Majoro and Mr Kabi are the first to ninth respondents respectively in the application.

Messrs Mohapi and Lepheane filed their urgent application in the wake of last week’s NEC decision to recall Dr Majoro from the premiership. Ten out of 17 NEC members voted to recall Dr Majoro and replace him with deputy secretary general and now fired cabinet minister, Kabi. Only seven voted to retain Dr Majoro.

In a subsequent interview with the Sunday Express, ABC spokesperson Masoetsa said the NEC had elected Mr Kabi to replace Dr Majoro at a meeting which was chaired by Mr Thabane. He said they had recalled Dr Majoro following an outcry by the rank and file of the party as well as the general public over a plethora of issues including poor service delivery and the premier’s alleged failure to stop the high murder rates in the country over the course of his 19 months in power.

“It has been decided that Majoro must be recalled from the prime minister’s post because of poor service delivery and his failure to implement strategies to stop the escalating murder cases in the country,” Mr Masoetsa said this weekend.

“ABC members and the public are all dissatisfied. We have received numerous complaints at our office. As a result, the party’s NEC now finds itself having to address issues that should have been dealt with at a ministerial level.

“There is also an issue of discrimination when it comes to awarding of government jobs. It has now come to a point where other party members are discriminated against and preference is given to those who belong to the prime minister’s faction. There is a perception that some ABC members are loyal to the leader (Thabane) hence they are being denied jobs as punishment for not supporting the prime minister. These and the longstanding issue of the prime minister’s refusal to work closely with the NEC are the reasons why he has been recalled. Even now, he (Majoro) does not engage with us. He is always hitting us with surprises (sic),” Mr Masoetsa said.

He said the NEC could not fold its hands and watch while the country was burning. Hence it had exercised its oversight role by voting to recall Dr Majoro, Mr Masoetsa said. He said right now the country needed a decisive prime minister who would act to address the multiple challenges bedevilling the country, not someone like Dr Majoro who “only paid lip service to pressing issues”.

He said the NEC believed that in Mr Kabi, they had found the best candidate to address all the challenges.

However, the war over the control of both party and government, which has plunged the country into a crisis, is far from over. This after Dr Majoro refused to step down in the aftermath of last Thursday’s NEC vote. He is said to have told his NEC colleagues that those expecting him to make way for Mr Kabi “would never see that happening”.

According to an NEC member who attended the NEC meeting which voted to recall Dr Majoro, the premier “was then given a chance to speak after the voting”.

“In clear terms, he said “bohle ba lebelletseng ke itokolle, taba eo ba tla e bona ha soebehla (those expecting me to resign will never see that happening). He (Majoro) was very calm when he said that. He said this in his usual soft-spoken demeanour”.

The NEC member, who is a Majoro supporter, said their faction was disappointed with the outcome as they had gone into the meeting believing they had the numbers to win.

The member said their confidence emanated from the fact that they had held a meeting at the State House on 29 November 2021 which was attended by 10 NEC members, including Mr Kabi, who had all declared their support for Dr Majoro.

The NEC decision has prompted Messrs Mohapi and Lepheane to file an urgent constitutional application for an order “declaring the decision of the first and second respondents (ABC’s NEC and ABC) to recall the sitting Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and instructing him to resign from the position as unconstitutional, null and void”.

They want an order “interdicting and restraining the first and second respondents from performing any function, exercising any power and taking any decision which violates or has the effect of violating the Constitution of Lesotho as well as the constitutional principles and values embodied in the Constitution”.

The duo argues that Lesotho’s common law position that political parties are private entities, in the same category as churches, is legally unsound as the political parties make decisions which ultimately have a bearing on national security, investment and public opinion.

“The applicants urgently apply to the court for the upholding of the rule of law, constitutional integrity and protection against the clearly unconstitutional conduct of the first, second and third respondents (ABC’s NEC, ABC and Mr Thabane).

“The first, second and third respondents are however, immunised from constitutional scrutiny by reason of the common law position which regards the first and second respondents as private entities, thus immunising them from public law scrutiny. In the light of the constitutional violations of the first, second and third respondents… and the consequences of non-compliance with public law standards, the first and second respondents are essentially public institutions amenable to public law normative frameworks and it behoves the court to develop the common law to regard them as public institutions and to hold them to account as such, pursuant to sections 2, 22(1) and 156(1) of the Constitution.

“The irresponsible and unaccountable conduct of the first and second respondents has serious consequences not only on the rule of law and constitutionalism, but also on the state security, stability, social and political order.

“Political parties perform the crucial function in the realisation of the democracy itself and cannot properly continue to be characterised as private entities in the same category as churches, civil organisations, trade unions, clubs, societies and partnerships,” Messrs Mohapi and Lepheane state.

In addition to nullifying the recall of Dr Majoro, they want the Constitutional Court to declare that “the common law regarding the legal status of political parties registered with the IEC as private legal entities subject to their respective constitutions, rules and by-laws and limited judicial review grounds as unconstitutional, null and void”.

They want an order “declaring the political parties registered or to be registered with the IEC as public institutions, semi-public institutions and as such they are amenable to ordinary public law normative frameworks, principles and standards”.

They also want an order “authorising the applicants to participate in the affairs and proceedings of the NEC of the ABC.

“Interdicting and restraining the first and second respondents (ABC’s NEC and ABC) or any other structure or personnel thereof, from preventing applicants to attend or otherwise conduct and participate in the affairs and business of the first and second respondents and from harassing the applicants.”

The endless infighting in the ABC has once again plunged Lesotho into crisis. It had been hoped that the infighting would recede after former ABC leader Nqosa Mahao walked out to form his Basotho Action Party (BAP), taking with him nearly a dozen ABC MPs.  Prof Mahao and Mr Thabane had fought a war of attrition ever since the former was elected to the deputy leader’s post at the party’s 2019 elective conference.  Dr Majoro, who had lost the deputy leader’s contest to Prof Mahao, was immediately seconded to replace him after Prof Mahao split to form the BAP.

But the infighting had since worsened with Mr Thabane and Dr Majoro locking horns over many issues at the expense of the national interest. The infighting appears to be driven by frustrated allies of Mr Thabane, who did not make it into Dr Majoro’s cabinet, and have been unrelenting in their efforts to sabotage him.

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