Six senior ministers including Moeketsi Majoro are among 34 All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislators who endorsed the party's national executive committee (NEC)'s deal with the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) to form a new government to replace the current government headed by ABC leader Thomas Thabane.
The ABC's NEC is dominated by members who are loyal to ABC leader Thabane's estranged deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao. However, the revelations by authoritative ABC sources that Dr Majoro and other senior members of Dr Thabane's cabinet are part of the plot to oust him, suggests that the veteran leader has lost the support of some of his key, trusted lieutenants. It will therefore be very difficult for him to remain in power after the prorogation of parliament ends on 19 June 2020.
According to the sources, other ministers who signed the pledge supporting the ABC-DC deal are Motlohi Maliehe (Social Development), Nkaku Kabi (Health) and Semano Sekatle (Justice). Mokhotlong legislator Tefo Mapesela and his Hlotse counterpart Keketso Sello also signed the petition before they were fired from their ministerial posts last Friday. Mr Mapesela was Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation minister while Mr Sello served in the Transport portfolio.
Repeated efforts to obtain comment from Dr Majoro, Messrs Maliehe, Kabi, Sekatle, Mapesela and Sello were in vain yesterday as they did not answer telephones calls and did not respond to messages sent to their mobile phones.
The six are said to have endorsed the ABC's NEC decision to form a new coalition with the DC after ABC members of parliament (MPs) met at Mine Workers' place in Khubetsoana on 28 March 2020. The MPs resolved that the party should abandon its current coalition deal with Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki's Alliance of Democrats (AD), Communications, Science and Technology Minister Thesele Maseribane's Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo's Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
Finance Minister Majoro will lead the new government to be formed by the ABC and DC. He will be deputised by DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu. Although the ABC and DC will be the major parties in the proposed new coalition, the BNP, RCL and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) will be roped to give the new coalition stability.
"We have 34 ABC legislators who have signed the pledge to support the (proposed ABC-DC) coalition deal including four cabinet ministers," a source told the Lesotho Times this week.
"The four are the incoming prime minister (Majoro), Ntate (Nkaku) Kabi, Ntate (Motlohi) Maliehe and Ntate (Semano) Sekatle."
The source said there were initially six ministers who had signed the pledge before Messrs Mapesela and Sello were fired last Friday. Dr Thabane did not disclose his reasons for firing the duo but it is widely believed they were sacked for supporting moves to oust the premier. Mr Mapesela subsequently told the Lesotho Times' sister Sunday Express newspaper that he was one of ABC legislators who supported the ABC-DC deal.
He said the MPs had merely acted in the country's best interests by agreeing a deal with the country's main opposition party. He said they have never hidden their intentions to form an ABC-DC government whose prime minister would have been Dr Thabane himself under normal circumstances, deputised by DC leader Mr Mokhothu.
"The choice of remaining a prime minister or leaving is his. We have always maintained that he remains a prime minister while Mokhothu would become deputy prime minister when parliament re-opens," Mr Mapesela said over the weekend.
ABC chairperson Samuel Rapapa confirmed to this publication that 34 ABC legislators had endorsed the ABC-DC deal. ABC sources have previously said that 35 legislators had endorsed the deal but Mr Rapapa told this publication that "immediately after the 34th member signed; I gave the list to (ABC secretary general) Ntate (Lebohang) Hlaele".
Mr Rapapa said he and fellow legislators, Lepota Sekola and Likopo Mahase had travelled the country and "collected signatures from Mokhotlong to Mafeteng in support of the coalition agreement with the DC".
He however, refused to reveal the names of those who had signed, saying that the media had no business knowing the contents of confidential ABC documents.
While 34 ABC legislators have so far endorsed the proposed ABC-DC s decision, 18 others, including Dr Thabane, either support the current coalition or moves to rope in the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Movement for Economic Change (MEC) to replace the BNP and RCL whose leaders recently broke ranks with Dr Thabane and sued him over his decision to prorogue parliament.
According to another source, the ABC legislators who have not endorsed the ABC-DC pact are Dr Thabane, Samonyane Ntsekele (Tsikoane constituency), Lekhetho Mosito (Likhetlane), Halebonoe Setšabi (Kolonyama), Litšoane Litšoane (Bela-Bela), Tšehlo Ramarou (Leribe), Leshoboro Mohlajoa (Malimong), Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung), Prince Maliehe (Teyateyaneng), Tšoeu Molise (Tšoana-Makhulo), , Thabang Mafojane (Motimposo), Mokherane Tsatsanyane (Stadium Area), Lesego Makgothi (Maseru Central), Chalane Phori (Qoaling), Lehlohonolo Moramotse (Lithoteng), Thomas Thabane (Abia), Temeki Tšolo (Mafeteng), Sello Mooki (Bobatsi) and Fako Moshoeshoe (Mabote).
Until recently, Mr Moshoeshoe was a staunch supporter of Prof Mahao and he backed the ABC deputy leader when Dr Thabane attempted to fire him and other NEC members from the party in the aftermath of the ABC's February 2019 elective conference.
Mr Moshoeshoe, who is also the ABC's parliamentary caucus chairperson, has since been accused of being a backstabber by his erstwhile ABC colleagues.
"Mabote (Mr Moshoeshoe) has been promised a ministerial post and has refused to sign. This is just a strategy to destabilise Mahao faction and Moshoeshoe has fallen for it. He is suddenly questioning decisions of the NEC. He wants a ministerial post hot or cold," a source said.
Yesterday, Mr Moshoeshoe denied selling out his erstwhile colleagues in return for a cabinet post. He told this publication that he was neutral and keen to reunite the party which was now split between those who supported the ABC-DC deal and those who had backed Dr Thabane's moves to forge a government of national unity (GNU) with the LCD and MEC.
He said those who endorsed the ABC-DC deal were unhappy with AD leader and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki for allegedly taking advantage of Dr Thabane to advance his own interests. He said it was believed that Dr Moleleki had influenced Dr Thabane to prorogue parliament. Dr Thabane prorogued parliament from 20 March to 19 June 2020, saying this was necessary to protect the 120 members of the national assembly from the deadly Coronavirus pandemic. His own party, coalition partners, the BNP and the RCL have joined forces with the DC to petition the Constitutional Court to nullify the prorogation. They also want the court to declare Dr Thabane unfit to remain in office and that King Letsie III be ordered to fire him and appoint a new prime minister in his place.
Mr Moshoeshoe said those who opposed the ABC-DC pact were unhappy with the BNP for dragging Dr Thabane to court over his decision to prorogue parliament.
He also attacked the move to form a new government with the DC when there was a "legitimate government" in place.
He said a new government could only be formed after Dr Thabane had clearly stated that he was no longer willing to continue with his current coalition partners.
He said he would not take sides but instead strive for unity within the ABC because this had helped them win so many battles in the past. He said the ABC should have openly discussed its plans to forge a coalition with the DC instead of secretly approaching individual MPs.
"As politicians, ABC MPs will discuss issues in different forums but at the end of the day they have to come to me (as chairperson of the party caucus) and communicate their decisions so that I can talk to the leader (Dr Thabane) to sanction a meeting to discuss a particular issue.
"On this particular issue (of forging a new government with the DC), this process was never followed. I don't know the motive. This is where I have a problem. I want to be the champion of uniting the ABC. I want that to be my legacy when I retire from politics. If we mess up this opportunity, other parties will take advantage and snatch the government away from us.
"They are saying I have taken another side and I have not. I am neutral and I support whatever is decided by the majority. I wanted this matter to be discussed by the ABC caucus. I am not taking any side. I stood with the NEC when people didn't want it to take over. I am on the side of the truth and stand with the majority.
"This list must be out in the open and allow people who no longer want the party to remain in a coalition with the AD to freely sign. We need to follow proper procedures," Mr Moshoeshoe said.
He said he only learnt of the ABC-DC coalition pact from Mr Mapesela who informed him that the Mahao faction believed that he could no longer be trusted.
He said they now regarded him as untrustworthy because he always consulted Dr Thabane whenever there was a decision to call a caucus meeting to deliberate on issues affecting the ABC.
However, Mr Rapapa denied Mr Moshoeshoe's claims and insisted the latter was fully aware of the meetings to discuss a deal with the DC but chose not to attend.
"I called him on a Friday (27 March) and informed him of the meeting... "He (Moshoeshoe) knows that MPs (Lepota) Sekola, (Likopo) Mahase and I were traveling the country requesting for people's signatures. We collected signatures from Mokhotlong to Mafeteng for the coalition agreement with the DC," Mr Rapapa said.
It remains to be seen how Dr Thabane will survive the moves to oust him especially after the prorogation of parliament ends on 19 June 2020.
Over the weekend the embattled premier pleaded with the security agencies to deal with his ABC rivals and the opposition for plotting his ouster.