Mokhothu, Metsing in talks over deal to oust Thabane

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

TWO of the country’s biggest opposition parties, the Mathibeli Mokhothu-led Democratic Congress (DC) and former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) have begun talks aimed at forging a broad opposition coalition to topple Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

The talks, which are being held under the mediation of fellow opposition parties which are represented in parliament, are also aimed at reconciling the LCD and DC which have been feuding ever since Mr Mokhothu replaced former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili at the helm of the DC in January 2019.

A united opposition in combination with the Professor Nqosa Mahao faction of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) would garner enough votes to topple Dr Thabane in a no confidence vote in parliament.

The embattled premier faces a tough battle to remain in power after disgruntled ABC legislators loyal to his estranged party deputy, Prof Mahao, filed a no confidence motion against him in parliament in June 2019.

The motion, which is yet to be tabled and voted on, is the culmination of several months of infighting stemming from Dr Thabane’s refusal to accept the February 2019 election of Prof Mahao as deputy leader on the grounds that the latter is a relative newcomer who should not have been elected ahead of more seasoned party stalwarts.

The no confidence motion was filed by the ABC’s Koro-Koro constituency legislator, Motebang Koma, and he was seconded by the DC’s deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa.

Although the motion is supported by all other opposition parties, a vote against Dr Thabane is unlikely to succeed without the support of the LCD which has been holding out for a possible coalition deal with whichever ABC faction is prepared to accept its demands for a government of national unity (GNU) and the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC).

The LCD is also demanding the release of murder-accused former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, and other detained soldiers. Mr Metsing has even held talks with Dr Thabane in June 2019 but so far no deal has been reached. His well-publicised fallout with Mr Mokhothu has militated against a broad opposition front to possibly bring down Dr Thabane’s government.

Hence the rest of the opposition who consider the ABC ripe for the taking due to the bitter Mahao-Thabane feud and the consequent no confidence motion, have resolved to bring Messrs Mokhothu and Metsing to the negotiating table.

“We saw it fitting for us as opposition leaders in parliament to intervene between the two warring parties as we could see that things were spiraling out of hand between them (Messrs Mokhothu and Metsing),” Movement for Economic Change leader, Selibe Mochoboroane, said of their mediation efforts.

“It (DC-LCD fallout) is not good for anyone as it was also affecting us in parliament on national issues where we have always enjoyed their unity even when their leaders were in exile. We did not think it wise to sit back and watch and hence we initiated the peace talks which are still on-going,” added Mr Mochoboroane.

Yesterday Mr Mokhothu confirmed there were ongoing talks, saying he and Mr Metsing had already met twice in the past few days to iron out their differences as well as build consensus on the no confidence motion against Dr Thabane and other motions which were brought before parliament by the opposition.

“We have met twice in the past few days. The problem we were facing was that of deteriorating relations between the two parties (DC and LCD) especially among the supporters. The followers were attacking each other on Facebook and on local radio stations.

“The bad blood kept on growing and all of us were concerned that it was getting out of hand. Other opposition parties expressed their concern and got us, as the leaders of the parties, to discuss. So we deliberated and came to the conclusion that we need to get our members to refrain from attacking each other. We are still deliberating on other issues including our motions which are before parliament to see if we can reach a consensus.

“We have the motion to amend the constitution to stop the prime minister from advising the king to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections in the event of the premier losing a no confidence vote.  We will also deliberate on the no confidence motion and also Ntate (Samuel) Rapapa’s motion to amend the parliamentary standing orders to allow for a secret ballot in the no confidence vote against a sitting prime minister.

So these are some of the motions we will discuss to try and build a consensus. We used to meet like this in the past to discuss issues. We have met before to discuss these issues but when we didn’t reach a consensus that filtered down to our followers who started calling each other enemies.”

Mr Metsing yesterday told the Lesotho Times that “so far the meeting which was held was about the manner in which LCD and DC supporters were engaging each other”.

“We felt the way they were engaging each other had gone beyond acceptable boundaries. At times it was no longer about engaging and there were personal insults and character assassinations. So everybody was saying this had gone too far and called on us as the leaders of the LCD and DC to intervene.

“We have not engaged on other issues but there is a desire that we engage on issues of national importance. The LCD’s position remains the same in demanding a GNU and TRC but there is always room of engaging with the opposition or even with government. As the LCD we have always wanted to be independent so that we can negotiate with whoever we want but if the opposition wants to engage us we will definitely listen because we believe in engaging and negotiating,” Mr Metsing said.

DC Spokesperson Serialong Qoo said “the meetings are an initiative by all opposition parties who agreed that there would only be a strong position against the government if we all work together as a united front”.

“The opposition parties agree that they can only save Lesotho if they hold hands and work together against Prime Minister Thomas Thabane,” said Mr Qoo.

LCD Deputy Spokesperson, Apesi Ratšele, said the talks were meant to help the two parties bury the hatchet.

“The main objective of the talks is to achieve peace and harmony among all opposition parties and bury the hatchet where things have gone wrong. We want to work for the common good of our people and just pray that at the end we will all be able to turn a new page and start on a clean slate.

“There is progress in the talks and a meeting for party spokespersons and another for all party leaders will be held before the end of the week,” Mr Ratšele said.

The LCD’s support for a no confidence vote would spell the end for Dr Thabane’s two year-old administration. That is assuming the 21 ABC legislators who have publicly backed Prof Mahao vote with the opposition legislators. With the LCD’s 11 seats, a Mahao-opposition alliance would have 70 votes out of the 120 legislators who make up the national assembly.

If successful, the talks would bring an end to the long-running conflict between the two parties which began when Mr Mokhothu succeeded Dr Mosisili as DC leader in January 2019.

Sources privy to the developments in the opposition parties said that Messrs Mokhothu and Mr Metsing were fighting over who is the greatest in the ranks of the opposition and congress movement.

The sources said that while Mr Metsing was happy to defer to Dr Mosisili, he now feels the latter’s retirement has opened the door for him to assume that mantle. “As one who served as deputy prime minister and is much older than Ntate Mokhothu, Ntate Metsing is not willing to play second fiddle and he feels the mantle of congress leader has passed to him from Ntate Mosisili,” one source said of the sour relations between the 52 year-old Mr Metsing and the 41 year-old Mr Mokhothu.

Mr Metsing has likened the DC-LCD to an emotionally sibling rivalry.

“It is so draining when siblings fight because their fight gets uglier than when they fight their enemies. I have seen DC members hoisting our t-shirts at their rallies and I always wonder why we have to be so confrontational.

“We don’t need to be fighting like this and we know that united we stand and divided we fall. Together we can achieve big things and ensure service delivery for our people,” Mr Metsing recently told LCD supporters at a rally in Thaba-Phatšoa, Leribe.

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