Spy boss warns Thabane

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…’accept the new ABC Committee or risk party and govt collapse’

Pascalinah Kabi

THE power struggle threatening to split the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and ultimately bring down the government could have been nipped in the bud had ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane swiftly acted on the advice given to him by the Director General of the National Security Service (NSS), Pheello Ralenkoane, highly placed sources have said.

The sources say that immediately after the ruling party’s hotly disputed 1-2 February 2019 national executive committee (NEC) elections, which saw the stunning victory of Professor Nqosa Mahao in the high stakes contest for the deputy leader’s post, Mr Ralenkoane prepared a comprehensive report for Dr Thabane. In that and subsequent reports, Mr Ralenkoane advised the premier to accept Prof Mahao’s victory and accommodate the rest of the team that had triumphed in the NEC elections.

Mr Ralenkoane is said to have warned Dr Thabane against the dangers of alienating Prof Mahao and his allies, saying they had significant support from ABC legislators and the grassroots of the party. The spy boss said any other course of action on the premier’s part would only sow seeds of division which would ultimately lead to the collapse of the governing coalition which has the ABC as the major party alongside Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD), Communications minister Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

However, the advice fell on deaf ears as the premier is said to have been talked by the outgoing ABC’s NEC into stalling and even preventing the new NEC from assuming office.  By winning the coveted post of deputy leader, Prof Mahao emerged as the front-runner to succeed Dr Thabane when the veteran leader eventually leaves office. But this has proved a bitter pill to swallow for some senior ABC veterans like the outgoing chairperson Motlohi Maliehe who have publicly said they cannot allow a ‘political greenhorn’ to take over the leadership of a party they formed in 2006.

Others who made it into the ABC’s NEC are Dr Thabane’s son-in-law, Lebohang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Chalane Phori (deputy chairperson), Nkaku Kabi (deputy secretary general), Tlali Mohapi (treasurer), Likhapha Masupha (secretary), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and ‘Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson).

However, Prof Mahao and his colleagues have not been able to assume power due to fierce resistance from the old NEC as well as the 11 February 2019 court challenge by three ABC legislators, Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe).

The trio want the court to nullify the outcome of the February elections and order fresh polls within three months. Mr Lehana contested and lost the polls for the deputy secretary general’s post, won by Health minister Nkaku Kabi. Mr Sello contested and lost the election for the treasurer’s post, won by Tlali Mohapi.

Despite his opposition to Prof Mahao’s candidature during the run-up to the polls, Dr Thabane initially appeared to accept Prof Mahao’s victory and the rest of the new NEC. Immediately after the highly divisive ABC polls, Dr Thabane told the Lesotho Times that the election of Prof Mahao and other NEC members “reflected the will of the majority of the party members”.

The premier further said the ABC elections “went on very smoothly and the new (national executive) committee is now there and we are making the necessary arrangements to have it confirmed and also to go ahead with the business of government”.

The government and security sources say when Dr Thabane made such comments, he had been willing to accept the new NEC in line with the advice he had received from Mr Ralenkoane who regularly briefs him on any threats to national stability.

The sources further say that the premier later changed his tune and disregarded the spy boss’ advice due to pressure from the party hawks who would not countenance what they saw as Prof Mahao’s usurpation of the leadership of the party they had founded almost 13 years ago in 2006.

This week Mr Ralenkoane refused to say what advice he had given the premier in connection with the ABC elections and the resultant power struggle in the ruling party.

He told this publication that the spy agency’s work was a closely guarded secret. He said while he was obligated to regularly brief the premier on intelligence issues, “the issues were closely guarded secrets that he never discussed with anyone except Dr Thabane in his capacity as Prime Minister”.

However, the sources said that Mr Ralenkoane repeatedly warned Dr Thabane against the catastrophic consequences of alienating the Prof Mahao faction. They said Mr Ralenkoane’s first report came shortly after the February elective conference, warning the premier that it would be in his “best interest to accept and accommodate the new NEC”.

“The outgoing NEC only allowed Prof Mahao to contest because the court order against his disqualification left them without any option. Even then, they still hoped he would lose and when he won, they hatched a plan to ensure that he (Mahao) and the entire committee did not assume office. The plan included court litigation but the NSS warned the premier against such moves.

“Based on the intelligence gathered by NSS officers, Ntate Ralenkoane prepared a report for the Prime Minister’s consideration, warning him (Dr Thabane) that it would not be in his best interest to alienate the incoming committee,” a government source said.

Another source explained that the initial intelligence report advised that Dr Thabane risked the collapse of his two-year old administration by alienating the incoming committee who clearly had the support of several legislators and ordinary members of the ABC.

“The initial intelligence report warned of the threat to the coalition government if Dr Thabane did not facilitate the handover of power to the newly elected ABC’s NEC. The report also stated that the ABC legislators aligned to the incoming committee had held several secret meetings where they agreed that instead of leaving the party, they would fight from within to ensure that the new NEC was inaugurated.

“And as the Pro-Mahao legislators’ frustrations mounted, they hatched a plan to oust Dr Thabane and this led to Ntate Ralenkoane penning another report, advising Ntate Thabane to accept the incoming committee or risk being ousted in parliament. The recent motion by (the Mosalemane constituency legislator) Samuel Rapapa to amend Standing Order Number 111 on the motion of no confidence against a sitting Prime Minister was conceived as part of the plan to remove Dr Thabane for siding with the old NEC in its fight against the new NEC,” the source said.

Mr Rapapa, who is the incoming ABC Chairperson, wants the motion to be amended to allow parliamentarians to vote in secret when a vote of no confidence motion has been moved against the Prime Minister.

In its present form, the standing order is silent on the method of voting. The 1 March 2017 vote of no confidence against the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was done in the open.

An NSS source told this publication that “when Rapapa moved the motion (to amend the standing order), we compiled intelligence reports which were used by Ntate Ralenkoane to warn the premier about the plans that were gathering momentum to oust him in parliament”.

“The ABC MPs clearly don’t want the government to collapse, they wanted Ntate Thabane to work with them and since that failed, they now want him out as premier,” the source said, adding that this intelligence was contained in Mr Ralenkoane’s latest report to Dr Thabane.

But when contacted for comment this week, Mr Ralenkoane said that he could not discuss his intelligence briefings to the premier.

On his part, Mr Rapapa denied that he was part of a plan to oust Dr Thabane in parliament as they were already dealing with the ABC power struggles through the courts and the regular rallies they were addressing in the constituencies. He said his motion to amend the standing order to ensure secrecy in any vote against a sitting Prime Minister was only done to improve the operational efficiency of parliament.

“That is a blue lie (the plot to oust Dr Thabane in parliament). We are amending standing order but we are not pushing for a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister. I want it on record that it is not true that we are going to move a motion of no confidence.

“I have moved this motion to amend the standing order because we want to improve the procedures of parliament. When the national assembly holds its first sitting after the elections, we elect a speaker of the national assembly and a standing order for that procedure clearly states that the voting must be done secretly and so does the standing order for the election of the prime minister. We want it to be the same when there is a vote of no confidence against the prime minister.

“This has nothing to do with the ABC issues. We are dealing with those issues through the courts of law and the rallies. Just because there are issues in the ABC does not mean parliamentarians should go to parliament for a prayer and leave. Some of the procedures of parliament must be amended,” Mr Rapapa said.

Asked why he was only pushing for the amendment of this standing order now, Mr Rapapa said “I wasn’t a member of parliament in 2015”.

“I can confirm the fact that I am proposing to amend the Standing Order 111 with just one sentence which says that ‘voting under this standing order shall be by secret ballot’. Asking me why I didn’t move it in 1965 is being unfair to me. We will end up being asked why we cannot wait until 2022 to move the motion,” Mr Rapapa said.

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, and the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, have also moved a motion to strip the Prime Minister of his powers to prorogue parliament when a vote of no confidence has been proposed against him. The move is widely seen as part of a plot to ensure that if a vote of no confidence is instituted against Dr Thabane, he will not dodge the bullet by proroguing parliament.

Dr Thabane prorogued parliament in 2014 to dodge a vote of no confidence against him during his first administration from 2012 to 2015. The first coalition comprised of Mr Metsing’s LCD and the BNP, in addition to the ABC as the lead partner.

 

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