21 January 2019

Lesotho: I Want to Be PM Until 2027 - Thabane

Photo: Manuel Elias/UN Photo
Prime Minister Thomas Motsoahae Thabane (file photo).

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane says he wants to remain in office until 2027 when he will only be two years shy of the ripe old age of 90.

The next general elections are due in 2022 and Dr Thabane this week vowed to contest them for another term in office. If he gets his wish, Dr Thabane who turns 80 in May this year, will be 83 then. Should he win in 2022, he will be 88 when he completes that term.

A veteran of Lesotho's politics, Dr Thabane who has served in various capacities in the various governments since independence from Britain in 1966, is currently enjoying his second stint as prime minister.

He first assumed the premiership as the head of a three-party coalition from June 2012 until he lost the February 2015 snap elections to another coalition led by long-time rival Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress (DC) party.

The first Thabane administration comprised of three parties, namely his ABC, the Thesele Maseribane-led Basotho National Party (BNP) and Mothetjoa Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).

Dr Thabane returned to power in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 snap elections, this time at the helm of a four-party coalition comprising of the ABC, BNP, Monyane Moleleki's Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Keke Rantšo-led Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

Despite his age, Dr Thabane is showing no signs of slowing down. He told party members at a rally in his Ha Abia constituency that he wants another term as prime minister.

"I have come of age but the truth of the matter is that I still want to contest the next elections and take up another term during which I shall give up if I fail," Dr Thabane told the sparse crowd.

The Sunday rally was convened ahead of the ABC's 1-2 February 2019 elective conference.

All positions in the ABC's national executive committee (NEC), except that of party leader which is currently occupied by Dr Thabane, are up for grabs. The fact that he faces no challengers for the ABC's top post had already been seen as a clear indicator that the PM plans to hold on to power for some time.

The run-up to the ABC conference is saddled with controversy after the party rejected the nomination of National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor, Professor Nqosa Mahao, for the number two post.

Prof Mahao had thrown his hat into the contest against Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, party chairperson Motlohi Maliehe and the acting incumbent, Prince Maliehe, who is also Transport and Public Works Minister.

The NEC disqualified Prof Mahao, claiming he did not fulfill the party's criteria to contest.

The Koro-Koro constituency committee which had nominated Professor Mahao is now fighting the disqualification in the courts.

The premier's announcement of his intention to seek another term comes against background of the latest Afrobarometer survey findings which showed that most Basotho want the powers of the prime minister to be limited to just two terms in office.

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in Africa.

Currently, there is no limit to the tenure of the prime minister and the majority of respondents to the recent Afrobarometer survey say this must change.

"Six in 10 Basotho (62 percent) favour limiting the prime minister to a maximum of two terms in office," Afrobarometer reported in its latest findings three months ago.

Two months ago, Dr Thabane's long-time rival, Dr Mosisili of the DC formally communicated his decision to step down from the leadership of the DC.

Dr Mosisili is Lesotho's longest serving democratically elected prime minister, having first assumed the position from May 1998 to June 2012 and again from March 2015 to June 2017.

Dr Mosisili communicated his decision to quit in a moving letter dated 9 November 2018 to DC supporters.

In the letter Dr Mosisili likens himself to a dancer who must eventually relinquish the stage regardless of how good his dance moves are.

"No matter how good a dancer you may be, there must be a time to come down from the stage and such a time has come for me to step aside," Dr Mosisili wrote.

Whoever is elected to deputize Dr Thabane at his party's impending leadership conference is seen as his obvious successor. But that person might have to wait much longer if the ageing premier keeps his ambition to stay in power.

ABC insiders say a lot of interest in the deputy leader's post is based on widespread expectations that DR Thabane could throw in the towel sooner because of his age and handover to the deputy. One senior party official said he had genuinely anticipated that the premier would serve only one term, if the current coalition survives, until 2022 then hand over to a younger leader. Dr Thabane's announcement this week puts to rest such expectations and ambitions.

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