Lesotho: Thabane Flexes Muscles

The Lesotho flag.

All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has moved to exert his authority over the ruling party by appointing former senior national executive committee (NEC) members, Samonyane Ntsekele and Prince Maliehe, to the party's executive working committee.

ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa said Mr Thabane had informed the ABC's national executive committee (NEC) of the appointments of former secretary general Ntsekele and former acting deputy leader Maliehe during the NEC's sitting on Monday.

Mr Masoetsa said the executive working committee's mandate is to run the party and make urgent decisions in between the NEC's monthly sittings.

Messers Ntsekele and Maliehe are trusted lieutenants of Mr Thabane who served as secretary general and acting deputy leader in the ABC's previous NEC until they lost to current secretary general Lebohang Hlaele and deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao at the ABC's February 2019 elective conference.

Mr Ntsekele also served as Water minister in Mr Thabane's cabinet from June 2017 until May 2020. Mr Maliehe served as Defence and National Security minister. He retained the portfolio under current Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro only to be fired in a 3 February 2021 cabinet reshuffle alongside Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader Keketso Rantšo who had served as Labour and Employment minister.

The appointment of the duo to the ABC's executive working committee appears to be a move by Mr Thabane to reassert his authority over the party which not only ousted him from the premiership but had over the past two years increasingly sidelined him in decision-making.

From early 2019, after the party's elective conference, Mr Thabane has been engaged in a power struggle with his party deputy Prof Mahao which culminated in his ouster from the premiership and the elevation of Dr Majoro, the ABC's Thetsane constituency legislator.

The Mahao faction won several court victories which had the net effect of reducing Mr Thabane's hold over the party he founded in 2006.

Chief of these was the December 2019 High Court judgement which barred Mr Thabane from making unilateral decisions without the involvement of full contingent of the NEC.

At the time, the NEC was overwhelmingly on Prof Mahao's side.

However, the Mahao camp has splintered in recent times with Messrs Hlaele and Masoetsa now backing Mr Thabane. They have even pushed for him to lead the party into next year's elections.

The move has been derided by some of the Mahao loyalists like the ABC's Mokhotlong MP, Tefo Mapesela, who says the 82-year-old Mr Thabane is too old to lead the party.

Mr Mapesela also said premier Majoro should concentrate on finishing his term and allow Prof Mahao to lead the party in next year's polls. He said Prof Mahao should be allowed to take over from Mr Thabane because his current post makes him the most senior ABC politician after the current leader.

As evidenced by the appointments of Messers Ntsekele and Maliehe, Mr Thabane appears to be taking full advantage of the fissures within the Mahao camp to reassert his authority.

Mr Masoetsa this week confirmed the appointments of Messrs Ntsekele and Maliehe to the ABC's working committee.

"Yes, it is true that he (Thabane) told the NEC that he has appointed Ntsekele and Maliehe into the working committee," Mr Masoetsa said this week.

"The working committee is a structure that assists the secretariat to run the office in the absence of the NEC's sittings. The ABC constitution says the NEC sits once a month but there are things which may need urgent attention in between those meetings which the working committee can deal with."

However, Mr Masoetsa sought to downplay the working committee's power, saying the decisions it made on behalf of the party could still be overruled by the NEC.

"It is a constitutional matter. There is a clause that allows him (Thabane) to appoint two members into the working committee - an administrative structure which cannot make any final decisions for the party. Its decisions can easily be overturned by the NEC.

"It is just a structure that assists the secretariat to run the office in the absence of the NEC's sittings. It is not a powerful structure whose main responsibility is just to assist the secretariat in between the NEC's monthly sittings," Mr Masoetsa said.

Asked if Mr Thabane had sought the input and consent of the NEC before appointing Messrs Messers Ntsekele and Maliehe, Mr Masoetsa who has previously asserted the NEC's collective power over Mr Thabane, said there was no constitutional requirement for Mr Thabane to seek the approval of the NEC.

He said Mr Thabane was only obliged to inform the NEC of his decision as he had done on Monday.

"This (Ntsekele and Maliehe appointments) is a constitutional issue and no one can contest it.

"His (Thabane) is just to say I have appointed these people as members of working committee and that's it. This (working committee) structure has always been there since 2006. It continued to hold its meetings even after the 2019 elective conference but there were two vacant positions. All in all, it is supposed to have seven members.

"He enjoys the constitutional power to appoint people to the working committee and the two are now members of the working committee. They will be called for the working committee's meetings whenever it sits and makes decisions which will have to be ratified by the NEC. However, the two will not attend NEC meetings because they are not part of it," Mr Masoetsa said.

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