Lesotho: Majoro, Mokhothu Deliver Knockout Punch to Mahao

Lesotho Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro (file photo).

Prime Minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader Moeketsi Majoro has received a major boost in his quest to remain in power until next year's general elections. This after Democratic Congress (DC) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu restated his party's commitment to upholding the two parties' April 2020 coalition agreement which gave birth to the current Majoro-led governing coalition.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Dr Majoro at State House in Maseru yesterday, Mr Mokhothu said he had no intention of abandoning the government after the ABC's split last week.

He said there would be challenges along the way but together with the ABC and smaller coalition partners, they were determined to weather the storms right up to the holding of elections, expected in September next year.

Mr Mokhothu's support effectively puts paid to plans by former ABC deputy leader, Nqosa Mahao, to bring down the government through a no confidence vote in parliament. At least for now.

Professor Mahao broke away from the ABC last Tuesday to form the Basotho Action Party (BAP). He said he had decided to quit the ruling party two years after he became its deputy leader because Dr Majoro had allegedly connived with ABC leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele to plot his ouster from the party.

He also accused Dr Majoro of conniving with Mr Hlaele to "hand back" both party and government to Mr Thabane who was ousted from power last May.

Dr Majoro reacted last Thursday by firing Prof Mahao from his post as Justice and Law minister. He was dismissed along with his allies, Motlatsi Maqelepo (Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation), 'Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety) and Deputy Minister of Health Nto Moakhi.

Mokhotlong legislator Tefo Mapesela was the first to be dismissed from his Agriculture, Marketing and Food Security portfolio a fortnight ago. This after he had said Dr Majoro should finish his current term before stepping down to allow Prof Mahao to lead the ABC into the 2022 elections and take over as premier in the event of an ABC win.

Mr Mapesela is not a member of Prof Mahao's new BAP party amid allegations of fallout between the two over the naming of the new party.

In the wake of his dismissal, Prof Mahao intensified his fight against his erstwhile ABC colleagues by launching the BAP last Friday. He claimed that at least 20 ABC MPs would defect to the new party.

For the time being he said he could only reveal the identities of 11 MPs who had joined him. These are Mr Maqelepo (Berea constituency), Fako Moshoeshoe (Mabote), Tello Kibane (Peka), Sotlehang Sekhamane (Maputsoe), Nto Moakhi (Malibamatšo), Molefi Phamotse (Lekhoele), Mphosi Nkhasi (Pela-Tšoeu), Motebang Koma (Koro-Koro), Libe Motšoane (Mphosong), Nyapane Kaya (Mechachane) and 'Mamoipone Senauoane (Thaba-Tseka).

However, it appears unlikely, at least for now, that Prof Mahao will have anything more than these 11 MPs in his corner, political observers say. Nor is he likely to succeed with his no confidence push. This amid indications that 35 ABC MPs have thrown in their lot with Dr Majoro. Dr Majoro has now also received the firm support of Mr Mokhothu. The DC has 27 seats which taken together with the 35 ABC seats suffice to meet the 61-seat threshold required to form government.

Speaking at their joint press conference yesterday, both Dr Majoro and Mr Mokhothu said their two parties still commanded the majority support in parliament despite the ABC split which gave birth to Prof Mahao's BAP.

Dr Majoro said there was a "lot of confusion" within the country regarding the stability of the government. He blamed the "confusion" on the BAP.

"We were told that government would have collapsed this week on Monday and when that did not happen, it was said that it will collapse this very Friday (tomorrow)," Dr Majoro said.

"The two parties leading His Majesty's government have therefore decided to come out and assure the nation that the ABC and DC remain united in this government. We have enough parliamentary seats to lead this government and it will last until 2022," Dr Majoro said, adding they would use the remaining period between now and next year's elections to fully implement the multi-sector reforms and fight the Covid-19 pandemic, among other things.

"I want to assure you that these two parties are committed to ensuring that the reforms are successfully concluded. We have had coalition governments from 2012 to 2017 which collapsed before they could finish their term. We have this current one which we are supporting with stretchers. However, it will last its full term.

"Let me tell you a secret. Even though there were many people who wished for this government to collapse, we defeated the challenges because when you form a grand coalition of the two biggest parties in parliament, it is easier to have a stable government.

"We have counted ourselves. At the moment the DC has 27 MPs that are wholeheartedly supporting it. We also have 35 ABC MPs for now and that number could go up. Just these two parties (ABC and DC) have 62 members which is more than the minimum required to maintain a government.

"We still have our coalition partners to count on. We are still hopeful that some of the ABC members we lost have had time to reflect. I am still struggling to understand the reasons that made them leave the ABC. I have heard a lot of explanations but these explanations do not make sense at all," Dr Majoro said.

He said he was still hopeful that some of the MPs who had dumped the party would return to enable the party to focus its energies on service delivery.

"We still have a lot of time and we are still committed to delivering services to the nation. We will not be stopped from delivering services, we are not going to prorogue parliament. We have a lot of business in parliament," Dr Majoro said.

On his part, Mr Mokhothu said "the ABC-DC coalition is still intact".

"We are prepared to continue as government despite conflicts, challenges and splits that may occur along the way. We are convinced that our two parties will carry the government, so there will be no change of government as some people had anticipated.

"We are saying to Basotho and the international community that this government will last until the next elections. Now that I have spoken, the good doctor (Majoro)'s fears have been allayed...

"It does not mean there won't be challenges along the way; they are many but we are here to solve the problems facing the nation. We have two thirds majority because we have 80 parliamentary seats from the ABC and its partners as well as from the DC and its partners," Mr Mokhothu said in reference to the seven smaller parties which have backed the ABC-DC grand coalition with their collective 18 seats.

Over the weekend, Prof Mahao had talked up his chances of a successful no confidence vote, saying his experience in the governing coalition had shown him that the ABC and DC had found it extremely difficult to work together.

He said although the two parties' national executive committees (NECs) had initially agreed to holding weekly meetings, they last met in September 2020. This after the DC allegedly vowed never to attend the meetings in anger over some ABC officials who allegedly accused the DC leadership of engaging in human trafficking activities.

However, Mr Mokhothu dismissed the claims that the two parties were not seeing an eye-to-eye due to the ABC allegedly sabotaging DC-controlled ministries.

He insisted that the ABC- DC coalition was the "most stable government" Lesotho had ever seen.

"If there has ever been a stable coalition, it is this one. We are not facing any serious challenges. I am the chairperson of the budget committee in my capacity as the deputy prime minister and there was no way the DC ministries would have been disadvantaged.

"After all we are not running this government as separate parties but we are His Majesty's government which is focused on service delivery. There are perceptions that certain ministries are being favoured and that is understandable especially when two biggest parties like these are working together.

"One will keep the other in check and that is normal and natural. It should not bother anyone. We continue to enjoy good working relations. The nation has full trust in these two parties and if this government fails to last its distance, the nation will lose faith in politics," Mr Mokhothu said.

Asked if he would demand the prime minister's post in the event that ABC support declined to a point where the DC became the biggest party, Mr Mokhothu said, "we will cross that bridge when we get there, if it ever happens".

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