MASERU – Is All Basotho Convention (ABC) strongman and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane losing his once firm grip on the party he helped form some 13 years ago?
This is the question most political pundits are now grappling with following last week’s hotly disputed intra-party poll which saw new faces dominating the national executive committee and Thabane’s perceived favourites being rejected.
The more cynical argue the result of the contentious elective conference was a de facto “vote of no confidence” in Thabane’s continued stranglehold over the party, touted the biggest in the country.
The ABC elective indaba chose Thabane’s nemesis Prof. Nqosa Mahao new ABC deputy-leader and a host of other ABC members who are said to have fallen out with Thabane.
This was done against the wishes of the leader and his clique and has opened Pandora’s box which could split the ABC and shake the four-party coalition administration it heads in the company of the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
The new committee comprises, among others, Mahao, Chairperson Sam Rapapa, Publicity Secretary Montoeli Masoetsa and Secretary-General Lebohang Hlaele, who despite outdoing themselves, are perceived to be in Thabane’s bad books.
In fact, just weeks shy of the elective indaba, while addressing an ABC rally in his native Abia constituency, Thabane excoriated Mahao, calling him “a rag and non-entity” from the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) who thought he could just come and contest the position of deputy-leader.
Party insiders have claimed Thabane would have preferred Minister of Public Works and Transport Maliehe Prince Maliehe, to grab the deputy leader’s post.
This thinking found traction after the immediate rejection of the newly-elected committee by members of Thabane’s inner circle who include ministers and members of the old committee.
The disgruntled group is now seeking a court order to declare the outcome of the elective conference null and void; that the old committee be granted authority to run party business until a new elective conference is convened within 90 days of the ruling.
The rejection of the NEC and subsequent court action have created a sense of déjà vu as it is reminiscent of the former two ruling parties, the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) which birthed the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) when its founder Dr. Ntsu Mokhele formed the breakaway LCD after falling out with the BCP NEC.
This effectively collapsed the government allowing the LCD to step into the void.
Thabane, who was Mokhehle’s political advisor during his BCP days and subsequently became Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1998 when Mosisili took the LCD leadership baton from an ailing Mokhehle, should be worried for his ABC.
This is because he should be on familiar terrain as precedence shows leaders who form parties when they fall out with their NECs tend to suffer the “Mosisili syndrome”.
Analysts describe the Mosisili Syndrome as: “what Mosisili was once, popular and untouchable, only to be plagued later by factionalism and splits”.
When he was into his second tenure as Prime Minister, Mosisili in October 2006 suffered a blow when Thabane who was his close aide and possibly confidante, formed the ABC and crossed the floor with 17 LCD MPs.
A wounded Mosisili was forced to dissolve parliament and call snap elections which were convened in February 2007 and saw Thabane retaining the 17 seats and an additional 10 proportional representation seats.
Thabane’s departure from the LCD also proved to be the beginning of the end of the mighty LCD for, soon afterwards the ruling party was rocked by infighting emanating from a fall-out between Mosisili and his NEC.
The NEC supported the then secretary-general Mothetjoa Metsing, leading to Mosisili in February 2012, just three months before that year’s elections, jumping the LCD ship to form the Democratic Congress (DC).
This was after a long battle between the LCD executive committee and constituencies that had written letters requesting a special conference wherein they would propose a no-confidence motion against members of the NEC from deputy-leader Lesao Lehohla and the rest of the committee, for fighting Mosisili.
The fact that the new ABC NEC has never been in the party’s offices – as they have been locked out pending the court case – is reminiscent of the violent scenes that rocked LCD headquarters during its own court cases.
Youths who were anti-Metsing would descend on the premises to insult Metsing and lock staff out of the office.
Although the courts had decided that the LCD NEC should convene a special conference, this was aborted on the floor before Mosisili could speak.
Constituency committees in attendance gave Mosisili the greenlight to form the DC, leaving Metsing to become new LCD leader after the acrimonious divorce.
As if that was not enough, Mosisili suffered yet another blow in 2016 when he fell out with his former deputy-leader Monyane Moleleki and the rest of the NEC, youth and women’s committees.
Only party spokesperson Serialong Qoo stood by his boss.
In December 2016, Moleleki unveiled a new political party he had formed after he and key members of the DC NEC were suspended after their failed attempts to oust Mosisili from the DC.
While Thabane has dismissed talk of the possibility of a split and formation of a new political party, events that led to the formation of the BCP, LCD, DC and AD must still be fresh in his mind and a definite cause for worry.
This is sharpened by the outcome of the recent ABC elective conference, and the uncertainty regarding the latest court case.
Political scientists have previously raised concerns about the state of the ABC and how continued shenanigans could adversely affect the government it leads, as happened when Moleleki left the DC, leading to the collapse of Mosisili’s 2015-17 coalition government.
If the ABC’s internal wrangling continued, political scientist Dr Fako Likoti warned, it would cripple government and “what might happen now is going to be a prolonged violent conflict that will definitely cripple the government, as we are already witnessing some of these aspects. Loyalty in politics is always fragile and its vulnerability index is very low. Once this is exposed it cannot be repaired, the ABC project ends here.”
“Thabane as a leader has become a lame-duck and a liability to ABC fortunes. He has to resign and leave the space,” Likoti said.
Also, National University of Lesotho (NUL) Political Science Lecturer, Dr Tlohang Letsie, said on the history of the LCD whose split led to the formation of the DC, and subsequently the DC split which led to the founding of the AD “it is obvious what happens to government when a ruling party is rocked by infighting”.
“It is obvious then, that if the ABC infighting continues, it will destabilise government, which could lead to its collapse, especially if there’s a split in the party,” Letsie said in a recent interview.
“If a split happens, those who break away from the party might join an already existing political party in a bid to remove Thabane.”
However, Letsie cautioned that it would be prudent for the ABC to thoroughly address its internal squabbles to avert government’s collapse, noting that because Lesotho only returned from national assembly elections in June 2017 “the country just isn’t ready to go for elections”.
Letsie added that should government collapse, even the international community who fund Lesotho’s elections “will not be impressed and might not come to the rescue”.
THE CONTESTED NEW ABC EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
Prof. Nqosa Mahao 693
Dr. Moeketsi Majoro 546
Prince Maliehe 245
Motlohi Maliehe 97
Lebohang Hlaele 656
Saxonian Ntsekele 422
Futho Hoohlo 275
Sello Maphalla 230
Nkaku Kabi 460
Maoshoa Mpeoa 365
Makhetha Mots’oari 272
Temeki Ts’olo 259
Nyapane Kaya 93
Makeabetsoe Letseka 58
Sam Rapapa 829
Kemiso Mosenene 380
Tefo Mapesela 239
Moramotse Lehlohonolo 71
Mpalipali Molefe 43
Chalane Phori 468
Ts’oeu Molise 414
Senoamali Phakisi 391
Sello Mooki 282
Tlali Mohapi 345
Likopo Mahase 318
Mokherane Tsatsanyane 287
Nto Moakhi 267
Pinkie Manamolela 128
Keketso Sello 118
‘Mats’epo Ramakoae 117
Sentle Rabale 427
Montoeli Masoetsa 431
Mohoahoalo Jane 398
Mahlohlora Moqhekoana 299
Deputy Publicity Secretary
‘Matebatso Doti 766
Joel Mohale 510
Lesego Makgothi 325
Likhapha Masupha 441
Thabo Sofonia 414
Mapaseka Khesa 264
Victoria Qheku 225
Nthabiseng Soluoe 211