Speaker of Parliament Sephiri Motanyane has thrown out a no confidence motion against Prime Minister Thomas Thabane saying it has no basis in law and parliamentary practice.
But members of parliament bidding to oust Thabane immediately lambasted the Speaker's "biased" action and vowed to reject his ruling and restore the motion using parliamentary procedures and regulations.
Although Speaker Motinyane's ruling is an obvious blow, at least for now, to the opposition and the Nqosa Mahao-led faction of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), who have united in seeking the premier's ouster, they nevertheless see it as a minor and temporary setback. Their immediate concern is to first push through an amendment to the constitution barring the prime minister from dissolving parliament if he loses a no confidence motion (see story on page 8). Once that is done, they would then focus on the no confidence motion itself.
Mr Motanyane threw out the motion yesterday on the grounds that it did not have "any basis in both the constitution and in the practice of parliament". This is all despite a legal opinion from Attorney General Haae Phoofolo's advising the Speaker that the no confidence motion had essentially been properly filed. The Mahao faction had been within their rights to file the motion as any MP was entitled to file any motion of their choice without any let or hindrance. That was in fact the very essence of democracy, Advocate Phoofolo had advised.
The no confidence motion was originally filed in June 2019 by Motebang Koma, the ABC's Koro-Koro constituency legislator and it was seconded by opposition Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa.
Mr Koma proposed that the ABC's Mosalemane constituency legislator, Samuel Rapapa, takes over as caretaker prime minister and effectively warm the seat for Prof Mahao. Prof Mahao is not a legislator and could therefore not be nominated to replace Dr Thabane despite his election as the latter's deputy at the party's contentious February 2019 elective conference.
Much to the chagrin of the pro-Mahao legislators and their opposition allies, parliament had then been indefinitely adjourned since June, without a vote on the motion. This after Mr Motanyane, ruled that the motion did not meet "procedural and constitutional requirements" for it to be accepted. He said the motion ought to have been filed by the opposition and not by Mr Koma, an ABC legislator. He also said the motion was flawed in that it proposed Mr Rapapa as the caretaker prime minister instead of an opposition leader.
"In terms of parliamentary procedure, it is the opposition that files a motion expressing lack of confidence in the government... ," Mr Motanyane had said then.
"I am not being naughty in saying that Ntate Koma, the proposer of the motion, is part of the government. Even the nominee for the caretaker prime minister's post, Honourable Rapapa is part of the government. I have not seen that in my long years in parliament," he added in the June 2019 remarks that were subsequently trashed by Adv Phoofolo.
In the legal opinion he prepared for Mr Motanyane in August, Adv Phoofolo said denying any legislator the right to file a motion against the executive was "undemocratic and inimical to the right to participate in the public affairs of the country and the function of parliament to exercise control over the executive".
Shortly after receiving Adv Phoofolo's opinion, Mr Motanyane said Mr Koma was free to proceed with his motion if he so wished.
But in a new turn of events yesterday, Mr Motanyane threw out the motion, citing his original arguments that Mr Koma's motion could not be tabled and debated in parliament because it had not been filed by a member of the opposition as per parliamentary conventions.
He said although he had sought and obtained Adv Phoofolo's opinion on the issue, the opinion was not binding and he was free to rule as he saw fit on the admissibility of the motion.
"This is the decision of the chair," he said, adding, "my considered ruling is that it (no confidence motion) is not admissible".
"I repeat, my ruling is that this motion, as it is, is inadmissible... This motion is not acceptable because it does not have a basis both in the constitution and in the practice of parliament," Mr Motanyane said. He said his ruling was based on section 87 (2) of the constitution which states that "the king shall appoint as prime minister a member of the national assembly who appears to the Council of State to be the leader of a political party or a coalition of political parties that will command the support of the majority of the members of the national assembly".
He also said his decision was based on the writings of a 19th century British parliamentary affairs expert, Erskine May, who said that no confidence motions were filed by the opposition "expressing lack of confidence in the government or criticising its general conduct".
The gist of Mr Motanyane's argument was that the no confidence motion could not stand because it was filed by Mr Koma, a member of the ruling ABC and not the opposition. The motion was also flawed in that it proposed Mr Rapapa for the premiership when he was an ordinary member of the ruling ABC and not a leader of the opposition.
This means that, according to Mr Motanyane, a fresh motion would have to be filed by the opposition and it should propose a leader of the opposition to take over from Dr Thabane for it to be acceptable.
DC leader Mothibeli Mokhothu said last night the opposition had already challenged Mr Motanyane's ruling by filing a motion to enable legislators to debate and set it aside as allowed by parliament's own rules.
"By the time we left parliament buildings today (yesterday), we had already filed a motion seeking to set aside the speaker's ruling. This was made in accordance with standing orders that allow members to challenge decisions of the speaker.
"The no confidence motion will be back in parliament for debate after parliamentarians have set aside today's (yesterday's) ruling," Mr Mokhothu said.
ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa said they were not surprised by Mr Motanyane's behavior because they had anticipated the ruling. But the most immediate task was to achieve the constitutional amendment stopping the PM from dissolving parliament if he loses a no confidence vote. The actual no confidence vote would then follow.
"We anticipated that this would happen and it is not a setback. Parliamentarians have already filed a motion challenging today's decision by the Speaker but we are not bothered. Our immediate worry is to get rid of legal hurdles that empower the Prime Minister to dissolve parliament whenever they lose no confidence ballots. I am happy that we are on the right track to achieve that.
"There is no stopping the motion of no confidence and it will eventually be filed and it will succeed. This (ruling) is just a delaying tactic because they know very well that they have run out of options and they have no hiding place," Mr Masoetsa said.