Parly experts speak on new coalition

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Billy Ntaote

EXPERTS in parliamentary procedure say while there is no clear cut procedure for the National Assembly speaker in the event of a change in the make-up of the House, he/she should be “guided by common sense” to inform the Council of State and the King on any changes.

The role of the National Assembly speaker has come into the spotlight after a faction of the Democratic Congress (DC) loyal to its deputy leader, Monyane Moleleki, and the tripartite opposition alliance last week Thursday agreed on a coalition arrangement meant to oust Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s seven-party government.

Under the pact with the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), Mr Moleleki would lead the envisaged government of national unity (GNU) for the first 18 months before changing hands with ABC leader Thomas Thabane.

During the press conference to announce the pact, Mr Moleleki said the agreement had already been submitted to National Assembly Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai with the expectation that she would inform the Council of State and King Letsie III to usher a change of government.

Mr Moleleki, who is also the Machache constituency legislator, has said 22 MPs have already pledged their allegiance to him after the DC National Executive Committee withdrew from the coalition government earlier this month.

Dr Thabane’s ABC, which is the biggest opposition party, currently has 46 MPs. Added with RCL and BNP lawmakers, the opposition bloc consists of 55 MPs. At 77 seats, the coalition would constitute a majority in the National Assembly since the minimum would be 61.

Ms Motsamai last week indefinitely adjourned the National Assembly to the chagrin of opposition legislators who accused her of dodging a proposed no-confidence motion against Dr Mosisili’s government.

She also wrote letters to 13 opposition MPs on 18 November this year, requesting them to “show cause” why they should not be expelled from the august house for alleged absenteeism without her permission. The case is now before the courts after the opposition legislators lodged an urgent High Court application challenging the letters.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Ms Motsamai referred the Lesotho Times to National Assembly Clerk King’s Counsel Fine Maema who acknowledged receipt of the coalition agreement.

However, he said it was unclear what would follow next after the receipt of the letter.

Former National Assembly speaker Sephiri Motanyane said there was no codified procedure upon receiving a document such as a coalition agreement.

He, however, said the speaker was guided by common sense to inform the Council of State and the King about any changes in the National Assembly as far as numbers required to form a government are concerned.

“The King has to be informed by the speaker that the complexion in the house has changed and indicate the numerical strength changes on the side of those who were constituting government and those who were in the opposition bench,” said Mr Motanyane.

“If the number of seats of a party or coalition decline and don’t make 61 seats anymore that means the sitting premier should resign. In the meantime, the King would appoint him/her an interim prime minister while preparations for fresh elections are being made or preparations for a new government are undertaken.

“There cannot be a government that does not meet the constitutionally required 61 seats in parliament, such a government will not be meeting the constitutional provisions.”

He said when informed about changes akin to those submitted by the DC and ABC alliance, the speaker should assess the numerical changes between the government and opposition side during a sitting of the House.

“The speaker should have the letter from those saying they have the numerical strength and see this strength in its physical form on the floor of the National Assembly,” Mr Motanyane said.

He said if there is no clear procedure, the speaker could borrow best practices from other Commonwealth parliaments or African Union member states.

This was echoed by long serving former MP Sello Maphalla who said as a member of the Council of State the speaker is duty bound to inform them so they can advise the King on the changes in the National Assembly.

He said the only recourse for MPs who felt aggrieved by the conduct of a speaker was a vote of no confidence to remove him/her from office and install one who served their interests.

“The only challenge now for the new alliance is that the House was adjourned and the parties will have to wait until it is reconvened for their numerical strength to be seen,” he said.

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