Lesotho: Setback for Bid to Oust Thabane

The Lesotho flag.
27 November 2019

Parliement has slowed a joint bid by the opposition and disgruntled All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislators to expedite the overthrow of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane by fast-tracking an amendment of the constitution to strip the premier of powers to dissolve parliament and order fresh elections if he loses a no confidence vote.

This after opposition legislator, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, had on Monday moved a motion seeking to suspend the parliamentary Standing Order Number 52 (7) which requires that all bills be referred to the relevant portfolio committees for scrutiny before they are passed by parliament.

The suspension of the standing order would have enabled Adv Rakuoane to have his bill for the amendment of the constitution to strip the prime minister of his arbitrary powers to dissolve parliament tabled and passed without first being referred to the Law and Public Safety Portfolio Committee for scrutiny.

Adv Rakuoane agreed to withdraw his motion after a petition against the motion was submitted to the speaker of the national assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, by the Development for Peace Education (DPE)'s National Animator, Relebohile Senyane.

Ms Senyane called on parliament to reject Adv Rakuoane's motion on the grounds that suspending the standing order to facilitate the fast-tracking of the constitutional amendment bill "would contribute to denying citizens the opportunity to give their input on the bill".

"We therefore petition the national assembly to exercise its powers to defer this bill pending the responsible portfolio committee gathering voices from the citizens and different stakeholders to inform the law," Mr Senyane said.

A fortnight ago legislators from across the political divide cleared the way for Adv Rakuoane to present the constitutional amendment bill by unanimously endorsing his motion calling for the amendment of the constitution to strip the prime minister of his arbitrary powers to advise the king to prorogue or dissolve parliament.

The adoption of the motion is seen as a crucial first step in ensuring that Prime Minister Thabane does not scuttle plans to oust him by advising King Letsie III to dissolve parliament in the event of a successful no confidence vote against him.

Until yesterday, Dr Thabane was faced with a no confidence vote after a motion for his ouster was filed in June 2019 by Motebang Koma, the Koro-Koro constituency legislator from the premier's own ABC party, and 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.

The adoption of Adv Rakuoane's motion meant that the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader could now bring before parliament a Private Member's Bill to amend sections of the constitution to strip the prime minister of his powers to unilaterally prorogue parliament without the backing of two thirds of the country's 120 legislators.

But on Monday Adv Rakuoane's bid to fast-track his bill by-passing the Law and Public Safety Portfolio Committee came unstuck after the DPE opposed him.

The DPE's Ms Senyane said the bill should go through the normal processes to enable the portfolio committee to consider the input of citizens and other stakeholders into the proposed constitutional amendments.

Immediately after Ms Senyane read out her petition in parliament, Mr Motanyane adjourned the parliament for almost three hours to give parliamentarians time to discuss and agree a way forward.

Mr Motanyane adjourned parliament after stating that citizens had "a right to petition their legislators on everything that might be discussed in parliament". This means citizens who are not parliamentarians like Ms Senyane can bring issues of concern before the legislators.

Adv Rakuoane agreed to the adjournment and thereafter the government and opposition legislators huddled in two separate caucuses to discuss the DPE's petition.

The government leaders' caucus was made of Dr Thabane and his coalition partners; Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki of the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), Communications Minister Thesele Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP), Energy Minister Ntoi Rapapa and Home Affairs Minister Mokhele Moletsane (both AD) and Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele from Dr Thabane's ABC.

The government meeting was joined by legislators from the four governing parties - the ABC, AD, BNP and the RCL.

Even pro-Mahao ABC legislators, most notably Thabo Sophonea (Thaba-Bosiu), Nyapane Kaya (Mechachane), Fako Moshoeshoe (Mabote), Sentje Lebona (Mohale's Hoek), Motlatsi Maqelepo (Berea) and Matebatso Doti (Lithabaneng) joined the government side for consultations.

The opposition caucus comprised of Adv Rakuoane, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing, the Democratic Congress (DC)'s Mathibeli Mokhothu, Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader Selibe Mochoboroane, Basotho Congress Party (BCP) head Thulo Mahlakeng, Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) boss Moeketse Malebo and Democratic Party of Lesotho (DBP) leader Limpho Tau.

The two separate caucuses went on for about an hour and thereafter the legislators mingled and courted each other on the way forward.

Parliament reconvened almost three hours later at about 5:55pm and Mr Motanyane called on Adv Rakuoane to make his submission.

"The honourable speaker of parliament... As per the consultations that we went for, I have been advised that it would be unwise to go ahead with the proposal for the suspension of the powers of a relevant committee. We have reached an agreement to withdraw this motion to give the committee and interested parties the opportunity to make submissions on this (constitutional amendment) bill," Adv Rakuoane said to applause from some of the legislators from the government side.

Mr Motanyane subsequently announced the withdrawal of the motion. This means that Adv Rakuoane's bill will now have to go through the normal processes including presentation before the Law and Public Safety Portfolio Committee for scrutiny.

Adv Rakuoane, fellow opposition legislators and the Mahao camp were eager to fast-track the constitutional amendment bill to ensure that Dr Thabane does not survive a successful no confidence vote by advising King Letsie III to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.

Despite the motion being filed in June 2019, Dr Thabane has hung on after parliament was abruptly adjourned soon after Mr Koma had filed it.

Although no reasons were given for the move, it is widely believed that the adjournment was to give Dr Thabane ample time to resolve the power struggle in his fractious party.

However, talks between Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao have failed to end the infighting in the ABC and the Mahao faction and the opposition resumed their bid to oust the premier after parliament was re-opened on 18 October 2019.

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