…after SADC brokers deal to reopen it on 19 September
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane returned home late morning yesterday under heavy South African guard after surviving last Friday’s attempted coup led by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Tlali Kamoli.
Dr Thabane and his coalition government partners were due to begin implementing a SADC-brokered agreement that compels the PM to re-open Parliament on 19 September 2014 and face a possible no-confidence vote.
The Democratic Congress (DC) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) remain adamant that they want him out. LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing told the SABC upon his return from Pretoria on Tuesday that he cannot guarantee that Dr Thabane would not face a no-confidence motion as “I am not responsible for parliamentary processes and what all MPs want”.
The DC, which was celebrating “victory” after the PM fled to South Africa on Friday, has hinted that its first business will be to push for the no-confidence vote as soon as the National Assembly opens.
But instead of facing the certain no-confidence vote, the Lesotho Times has been authoritatively informed that Dr Thabane will instead, opt to dissolve Parliament soon after its re-opening and order fresh elections. This is realistically the only way Dr Thabane can avoid a no-confidence motion.
Section 83 (1) of the constitution empowers the King, on the advice of the Prime Minister, to “at any time, prorogue or dissolve Parliament”. This technically empowers the PM to order the dissolution of Parliament before it considers any motions against him.
Section 83 (b) of the Constitution, also empowers Dr Thabane to advice the King to dissolve Parliament within three days after it passes a no-confidence vote against the government.
But the option of dissolving Parliament under Section 83 (1) presents less legal hurdles for the PM than doing it after the passing of a no confidence vote in terms of Section 83 (4).
With no money to conduct elections within the three months designated by the Constitution, after the dissolution of Parliament, Dr Thabane would probably attain more time to prolong his stay in power and re-align his strategies before facing a fresh national vote. But Dr Thabane would also have to clear the hurdle presented by Section 83 (a) ,which empowers the King to refuse to dissolve Parliament if he considers that such a dissolution “would not be in the interests of Lesotho”, on the advice of the Council of State.
However, with the Council of State seemingly having more Prime Ministerial sympathisers or appointees, Dr Thabane could easily overcome that hurdle. Sources say it is now impossible to avoid a dissolution of Parliament in as much as it is impossible to avoid its re-opening on 19 September 2014.
The PM and his coalition partners, Mr Metsing of the LCD, and Thesele ‘Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP), signed a confidential declaration in Pretoria at the weekend, witnessed by President Jacob Zuma and SADC executive secretary, Stergomena Tax, in which they agreed on the steps leading to the re-opening of Parliament (see the confidential agreement below).
The declaration compels the three coalition parties to hold a joint meeting of their executive committees on 3 September, meet with King Letsie on 5 September “to advise him on lifting the prorogation of Parliament” and to ensure the re-opening of Parliament on 19 September 2014.
The meeting of the executive committees took place as scheduled yesterday and its spokesman, Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo, described is as an important “confidence building measure”.
However, the animosity between the LCD and ABC remains palpable and it seems clear that Dr Thabane cannot believe any promises not to pass a vote-of-no-confidence against him, effectively making dissolution just after Parliament re-opens, inevitable.
A huge contingent of South African Police Service (SAPS) and South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members helped Dr Thabane return and are now securing his official residence and office.
In fact, uniformed, heavily armed SAPS officers stood guard at the entrance of State House yesterday.
There was a mini-scuffle earlier when the South African police and army tried to remove all Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers from State House and the latter tried to resist but gave in afterwards, presumably because of the sheer sizeable numbers of the South African security contingent.
The significant presence of the South African security personnel will most likely guarantee Dr Thabane peaceful nights for now and possibly deter LDF Commander Kamoli from taking any further military action against the PM. Kamoli attempted a coup last Friday when he deployed the army to disarm the police, who are loyal to Dr Thabane, and tried to seize the PM from State House to frog-march him to the main Radio Lesotho station to force him to announce that he had quit.
However, Dr Thabane, whose bodyguards had been on alert for trouble ahead of an announcement to fire Kamoli and had been tipped by their friends within the LDF who knew of Kamoli’s plan, and not by SA special forces as some media reports have claimed, managed to flee to safety in Ladybrand, South Africa, before the soldiers pounced.
While Dr Thabane is now under heavy SA guard, SADC has also deployed a “technical unit” that is assessing the situation to report back to the mother-body.
Dr Thabane managed to secure good SA security for himself after failing to get the military intervention he wanted to stabilise his impoverished Kingdom.
Still the visible presence of SA security personnel is not mollifying Basotho, with many still expecting trouble if Dr Thabane insists on firing Kamoli, as his aides say he will. The LDF commander has said he will fight to the last man despite reportedly planning to also lodge a court challenge against his dismissal.
The National University of Lesotho (NUL) has been shut indefinitely and the US closed its embassy and associated agencies and deployed citizens to SA while locals are working from home.
Dr Thabane was whisked through the border in two discreet ordinary Lesotho government bakkies late yesterday morning. When his official long motorcarde of black limousines passed through the border and caught everyone’s attention, the premier was already at his official residence.
Several SAPS and SANDF members, some in vehicles marked VIP Protection Unit, had arrived late on Thursday to prepare for Dr Thabane’s arrival.
Commissioner of Police Khothatso Tšooana also returned under heavy SA police guard. He addressed a press conference late yesterday, guarded by uniformed SA soldiers, and called all police officers, who had abandoned their stations, to return to work (see story on Page 4).
Maaparankoe Mahao, who was appointed new LDF commander on Friday but survived an attack on his house during Kamoli’s coup bid, insisted that he was now commander and talks were underway between Dr Thabane and the SADC delegation in Maseru for a “roadmap leading to a change of command”. Kamoli has nonetheless vowed to fight to the last man and the nation awaits his next actions with much anxiety.