Lesotho: ABC Faces New Power Dynamic After Thabane Ouster

A new power dynamic has emerged in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) after Thomas Thabane quit as prime minister but opted to remain party leader.

That dynamic remains a potential source of conflict as three distinct factions may emerge to vie for control of the party, analysts warn.

The party has hitherto been ravaged by the factions controlled by Mr Thabane and his estranged deputy Nqosa Mahao. But new prime minister Moeketsi Majoro will inevitably be tempted to try and exert influence over the party. The ABC will in the same vein expect him to implement its policies.

Dr Majoro cannot realistically achieve longevity in office without taking charge of the entity that catapulted him into power.

Dr Majoro is in the invidious position of having ascended to the premiership without being the leader of his political party. That has no precedence in Lesotho's 54-year independence history.

Dr Majoro is not even a member of the national executive committee (NEC) of the ABC, which is dominated by Prof Mahao's allies. As premier, he will inevitably want to control the party to secure his tenure.

At the same time, Mr Thabane's decision to remain party leader is to try and remain relevant. It could potentially create problems if he tries to pull the power strings from behind. Prof Mahao himself has also not obliterated his ambitions to become party leader.

ABC spokesman Montoeli Masoetsa said the NEC would not tolerate any negative influences by Mr Thabane. The NEC would promptly deal with him if he tried to cause trouble for Dr Majoro, he said.

But analysts see no reason why Mr Thabane should have remained party leader after he quit as premier. His decision is not in line with the

Westminster traditions wherein a prime minister automatically loses his party leadership position when he quits.

To avoid any potential problems, analysts say, the ABC must resolve its party leadership question and replace Mr Thabane as soon as possible. The ideal situation would be for Dr Majoro to assume the ABC leadership to avoid competing centers of power.

In the meantime, Dr Majoro has a mammoth task to navigate the political dynamics in his party.

Professor Hoolo 'Nyane, who heads the public and environmental law department at the University of Limpopo, predicted Mr Thabane would soon lose the leadership of the ABC as he had become irredeemably unpopular. But that would not make Dr Majoro's work any easier. He would still have Prof Mahao to contend with.

Prof 'Nyane said both have a "subtle conflict" going on as they vied for the ABC deputy leadership post at the party's elective conference in February 2019. Prof Mahao edged Dr Majoro with 671 votes to the latter's 524, a relatively slim victory.

Prof Mahao was excluded from the running to succeed Mr Thabane as premier as he is not a member of the National Assembly. His faction opted for chairman Sam Rapapa. Mr Rapapa was subsequently defeated in a party parliamentary caucus election by Dr Majoro with an equally slim margin of 18 votes to 26 for the latter.

"Obviously Majoro has two challenges, the first one being to manage the complex coalition arrangement that he is going to lead. The second part is where he is going to manage political dynamics within his own party," Prof 'Nyane said.

"We know that the ABC is seized with its own internal ramblings. Now about three centres of power are emerging. In the past we used to see two; one led by Prof Mahao and the other by Thabane.

"Now Dr Majoro has emerged as a player in his own right. We all know that he also has ambitions (to lead the ABC) ... There is Prof Mahao who has led the processes that have catapulted Majoro to the premiership and then there is Mr Thabane fighting to remain relevant,

"Now we have three players who want to maintain their powers within the ABC and Dr Majoro has the task to navigate those power dynamics... It is a potential source of trouble."

While Mr Thabane, whom Prof 'Nyane described as a spent force, could pose the least problems for Dr Majoro, the same could not be said of Pro Mahao.

"Thabane remaining as party leader may not be significant... He is literally an outgoing party leader. He is worn out and politically wounded. He may be out of the equation very soon but Prof Mahao is there to stay.

"... The issues are going to be between Dr Majoro and Prof Mahao. Remember Prof Mahao is in charge of this victorious NEC which has achieved its goal of ousting Thabane and can rightly claim all the credit for that. He (Mahao) did not lead all that work to be run-over afterwards."

Prof 'Nyane said he did not think Prof Mahao was necessarily in support of Dr Majoro. Neither was Dr Majoro in support of Prof Mahao. The two were cohabiting now more out of convenience and expediency than genuine political love for each other. They remain competitors, he said.

The two may appear as if they are together now, but in reality, they originate from different camps and harbour conflictual ambitions.

"Both have ambitions to ultimately lead that political party. So, they are in a subtle conflict of some sort. Dr Majoro is not in the NEC but he is going to want to leverage his power as the prime minister to try to influence the dynamics within the ABC," Prof 'Nyane predicted.

Dr Majoro might need to entice Prof Mahao by giving him a cabinet post for them to operate smoothly. Equally, it is important that Dr Majoro be co-opted into the NEC.

But Prof 'Nyane reckoned that even if all these gestures are done, they would not be enough to eliminate their subtle conflict and race towards the ultimate leadership of the ABC.

He said Dr Majoro would better start by facilitating a smooth exit for Mr Thabane and his group from the ABC and try to win that faction over even as they are no longer as important as they used to be. His greatest task will be managing Prof Mahao. Only time will tell the levels to which any tiff between Dr Majoro and Prof Mahao would degenerate to. Much depends on how the two chose to manage their relationship.

"Much will depend on them. Dr Majoro comes with the likes of Tefo Mapesela who still believes that ultimately Dr Majoro himself must take over the ABC as they really do not believe in this new (Mahao) committee. Like I said, the conflict remains. How they supress it or how it ultimately escalates will depend on how Dr Majoro and Prof Mahao manage it... "

As Prime Minister, Dr Majoro was now in pole position to use state resources to win over support for the ABC leadership.

Political analyst Lira Theko notes this is the first ever time in Lesotho's history where a political party has selected its ordinary member to become prime minister. Hopefully, this would eliminate past practises of conflating the state or government with a ruling party. Dr Majoro is the head of government and he must be fully left to discharge that role without being constrained by petty political narrations and interests, he said.

Internal ABC squabbles maybe unavoidable. But they must not be allowed to affect Dr Majoro's work as prime minister.

Mr Theko predicted it would be difficult for Dr Majoro to find common ground with Mr Thabane as long as the latter remained party leader.

"He takes the role of the leadership of government from a party that is marred by factions. He quickly has to figure out how he is going to ensure that the government is not going to be destabilised by the factions in the ABC," Mr Theko said.

Mr Theko said if the new coalition government was to survive beyond the lifespans of its predecessors, it had to avoid conflating the work of the government and the political parties.

All the political parties in the new coalition must draw a common charter from their manifestos to ensure service delivery and grow the economy. That should be the focus of their deployees in the government.

"The problem with Lesotho coalitions is the lack of clear indications of where the powers of a political party start and ends vis a vis government business... . Cabinet ministers account to their parties' executive committees because the expectation is for them to implement their parties' manifestos," Mr Theko said.

"But how can that feasibly work in a coalition of many parties with different philosophies? How does those ministers sitting in one cabinet implement one agenda when they have to report to different parties with different manifestos?"

A common agenda to advance development, drawn from the different manifestos of the parties, would help avoid conflict in the future.

He said that without some consolidation of ambitions, the new coalition could find itself stuck in the disagreements that have derailed previous coalitions.

It could nonetheless work to Dr Majoro's advantage if there was no conflation of the competing interests of political parties and the government which must solely focus on improving the general welfare of Basotho. Mr Thabane should be kept in check by being reminded he is leader of a political party and not the prime minister and must not interfere in government affairs.

Senior political science lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Mohlomi Mahlelebe, said tensions were inevitable in any organisation where there were two centres of power or more.

Mr Mahlelebe said Dr Majoro would assert his authority in running government, while either Mr Thabane or Prof Mahao would likely cause trouble by seeking to get the party to influence the government. If there are disagreements in perspectives, conflict would be inevitable.

But he said in as much as Mr Thabane might attempt to be a headache for the incoming government, it might not be profitable for him to do that because he had lost touch with his party.

"He (Mr Thabane) has no influence in the NEC... It will be difficult for him to cause headache for Ntate Majoro because he longer enjoys the popularity he once had in the party," said Mr Mahlelebe.

"In fact, he risks being kicked out of the party if he tries to cause trouble," Mr Mahlelebe said.

In the meantime, Dr Majoro would have to seek to work well with pro-Mahao NEC to avoid sapping conflicts at the expense of important issues to improve the lot of Basotho.

Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) director, Tsikoane Peshoane, said Mr Thabane had lost relevance and it would be futile for him to try and cause problems for Dr Majoro.

Even though Mr Thabane was highly wounded after being forced to quit, he would be constrained by the fact that Dr Majoro now holds the reigns in government.

But problems could always be anticipated in a party wherein strong individuals vied to exercise control.

Mr Masoetsa, the ABC spokesman, said Mr Thabane should not even dare to attempt to control Dr Majoro's cabinet decisions because the party's NEC would have none of it.

"He cannot. The NEC is the only body that will give the work plan for Dr Majoro in order to implement the party policy. We will not allow him (Thabane) to attempt to run the show. We have successfully challenged some of the decisions he attempted to make when he was prime minister and nothing will deter us from stopping him if he attempts to run the show. Recently, we challenged him when he prorogued parliament and we succeeded. This a typical example that -whatever he may want to do against the collective decisions of the party NEC -- he will not succeed," Mr Masoetsa said.

But what if Dr Majoro disagrees with the directives of the party's NEC and refuses to implement them as prime minister? It's that potential dynamic that worries the analysts.

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