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Power battle goes to constitution

by Lesotho Times
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Billy Ntaote

WITH a no-confidence motion on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili passing yesterday, Lesotho faces uncharted territory amid conflicting interpretations of constitutional provisions by the outgoing government and opposition.

Lawmakers from the four-party opposition bloc yesterday brought the Dr Mosisili-led seven-party governing coalition’s almost two-year tenure to an end during a no-confidence vote after outnumbering the latter almost two to one.

The opposition bloc, which consists of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho boasted the support of up to 74 MPs in the 120-member National Assembly, which just requires 61 seats to form government.

With the expected toppling of the government now a reality, the focus has shifted to the constitutional provisions in light of Dr Mosisili’s long avowed declaration that he would advise King Letsie III to dissolve parliament and call for elections.

Section 87. 5(a) states that in the event of a no-confidence in the government passing, the premier would have three days to either resign or advise a dissolution of Parliament to the King.

Ministers from the outgoing government, Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi and his Home Affairs counterpart Lekhetho Rakuoane, yesterday told the Lesotho Times, Dr Mosisili was within his constitutional rights to expect King Letsie III to dissolve parliament and call for elections.

However, the opposition and political analysts have begged to differ, saying Dr Mosisili was attempting to take advantage of an ambiguous clause in the constitution to deny the opposition power without going for polls.

Section 83 of the constitution empowers the King to dissolve or prorogue parliament at any time “in accordance with the advice of the prime minister”.

However, Section 83. 4(a) stipulates that the King can agree with or disregard advice by the premier to dissolve parliament and call for elections if it is not “in the interests of Lesotho”.

“. . . if the Prime Minister recommends a dissolution and the King considers that the Government of Lesotho can be carried on without a dissolution and that a dissolution would not be in the interests of Lesotho, he may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, refuse to dissolve Parliament;”

The contentious clause is Section 83. 4(b) which states that “if the National Assembly passes a resolution of no confidence in the Government of Lesotho and the Prime Minister does not within three days thereafter either resign or advise a dissolution the King may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, dissolve Parliament; and . . .”

However, it seems to contradict Section 83. 4(c) which state that “if the office of Prime Minister is vacant and the King considers that there is no prospect of his being able within a reasonable time to find a person who is the leader of a political party or a coalition of political parties that will command the support of a majority of the members of the National Assembly, he may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, dissolve Parliament.”

Section 83.(5) also stipulates that: “A resolution of no confidence in the Government of Lesotho shall not be effective for the purposes of subsection (4)(b) unless it proposes the name of a member of the National Assembly for the King to appoint in the place of the Prime Minister.”

Mr Mokhosi said Section 83. 4(b) empowered the premier to dissolve parliament and call for elections.

“The prime minister can advise the King that he is resigning following a motion of no confidence or advise the King that he should dissolve parliament and call for an election,” the minister said.

“The constitution also provides that within three months, the country should go for elections.”

Mr Mokhosi said contrary to the opposition’s pleas to the Council of State to advise King Letsie III against dissolving parliament, the body could only render its advice if the premier had not advised the King on dissolution.

The Council of State consists of Dr Mosisili, the National Assembly speaker, two  judges  (or  former  judges)  of  the  High  Court  or  Court  of  Appeal,  the army commander, police commissioner, attorney-general, nominees of the prime minister, opposition MPs, and members of the legal profession among others.

“As government, we have agreed that in the event of this motion passing, the prime minister should go to the King and advise for the dissolution of parliament and call for a fresh election,” Mr Mokhosi said.

“We don’t have a problem with whomever will emerge victorious from that election, but they should get the mandate to be in government from the people and not have someone catapulted to the premiership.”

He said the opposition bloc’s proposal of AD leader Monyane Moleleki as Dr Mosisili’s replacement “defied logic” since his recently-formed party had not contested any elections.

Under the opposition bloc’s coalition agreement, Mr Moleleki would be premier for the first 18 months in the event they form government, while ABC leader Thomas Thabane would initially deputise and then take over in the latter 18 months.

Mr Rakuoane said politicians should not be allowed to “summersault” into the premiership without contesting elections.

“Our understanding is that when politicians give each other 18-month deals to rule the country, it sets a bad precedent,” he said.

“The people in the grassroots should be aware of these deals and make their own choice through an election.”

For his part, the Transformation Resource Centre’s Programmes Manager Mabusetsa Lenka Thamae said contrary to the view espoused by the government, the Council of State could advise King Letsie III against dissolving parliament and hand over power to a new administration.

Instead of elections, he said Lesotho needed a government of national unity to usher the country into a phase of stability and development.

“It will not be in the best interests of the country to go for elections. We should rather work on the reforms and thereafter go for elections,” said Mr Thamae.

He also indicated that the government’s claims that the AD should not be in power because it never contested elections was misplaced since the country’s parliamentary system elected legislators and not parties.

 

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