MASERU – Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) will never be the same again after the tumultuous events of the last few months.
This, analysts said, is regardless of whether the wily octogenarian outfoxes his foes in Nqosa Mahao’s camp and wrestles full control of the party or buckles to the relentless pressure being applied on him and allows his rivals back into the laager unconditionally.
A win for Thabane could mean throwing Mahao and his acolytes out of the party, a scenario that is likely to ostracise the bulk of the ABC faithful that has steadfastly stood with the former National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor.
This follows months of infighting which has fanned fears of a split although some analysts believe “there are factors that might compel them to reconcile”.
According to political experts, while it was always prudent to never say never regarding possible splits in Lesotho’s political parties “we can’t say for sure at the moment whether the factions will reconcile or opt for a split”.
“We cannot say for sure that the factions might not reconcile, but in my opinion chances are very slim that we can ever again have a united ABC”.
The analysts said the “two factions are now only fighting for the brand that is the ABC”.
The national executive committee (NEC) has split into factions, one pro-Thabane while the other supports Mahao.
The situation has become so toxic that on June 17, Thabane “expelled” all five members of the NEC aligned to Mahao for insubordination.
On the same day, the ABC five denounced Thabane and scoffed at his show-cause ultimatum.
Last week, the five “overturned” Thabane’s decision firing them from the ABC, adding they were suspending Thabane “with immediate effect pending a disciplinary hearing” for “undermining the ABC constitution and disregarding court’s decisions”.
They were referring to a June 12 High Court judgment which endorsed the Mahao group as the legitimate NEC because it had been lawfully elected.
Hlaele told the media Thabane had disregarded both the party’s constitution and NEC decisions when he unilaterally suspended them.
Hlaele said if Thabane wanted to challenge his suspension, he should “go and challenge it in the courts of law”.
Thabane enjoys the support of five members of the new NEC.
Hlaele said relations had soured because of the prolonged infighting and admitted there were “signs that the ABC could suffer a split”.
“I have in the past said I do not see a split in the ABC. However, there are signs of a late that ABC might suffer a split. I know very well the history of party splits from BCP, LCD, DC and AD to this point.
“There are signs that the party could be headed for a split. After all, it is already apparent that there are camps in the ABC. That’s a threat and it spreads to this good nation.
“A man’s children will fight only to reconcile after some time. What we are in pursuit of now is justice. We are not interested in anyone’s interests. Our country is governed by the rule of law and ours is a democratic state where the people’s voice is king.
“What makes it difficult for us is that ours is the senior partner in the country’s current coalition government. What is unnerving to most people are prospects of the ABC losing out on becoming government again in 2022.”
However, Hlaele noted the ABC five did not want Thabane to leave ABC nor did they “intend to jump ship” further dismissing the speculation the ABC had reached the brink.
“But we cannot say that the ABC leader will jump ship. As for us, we have no intention of jumping ship either. We are not in the least fighting over the brand that is ABC.
“The brand is not an issue. What we need is justice for ABC members who spent five days sleeping on concrete floors at the Lehakoe Recreational Club, not for Mahao, Masoetsa, Hlaele, Doti or Rapapa,” Hlaele said.
“ABC is our party. It belongs to us all. I am a member of the ABC, not the leader’s. I joined this party because I was attracted to its policies. When the time comes, I will leave voluntarily just as I joined voluntarily. That is the principle.
“No one will jump ship. The leader will also not jump ship. We hope that as time goes on, we will all place more value in the ABC and appreciate that the party and Basotho should come before our personal interests.”
The five and Thabane are expected in the High Court on July 22 to wrangle over their expulsion. Lesotho’s political history is littered with party splits, with the first occurring in 1997 when former Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle abandoned the former ruling Basotho Congress Party (BCP) after falling out with the NEC which supported deputy leader Molapo Qhobela.
He went on to form the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) which attracted the majority of MPs, effectively usurping governmental power and retaining his premiership.
Coincidentally, when Mokhehle formed his LCD, Thabane was his political advisor, with the dominant narrative at the time being Thabane had advised the ailing and ageing Mokhehle to form the party.
Then in 2001, the LCD suffered yet another split when former Deputy Prime Minister Kelebone Maope broke away with 21 MPs to form the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), which met its Waterloo at the 2002 polls.
Similarly, the LCD split in October 2006 when Thabane, along with 16 MPs left to form the ABC.
The LCD, which emerged from the 2007 snap polls with 62 constituency seats, was rocked by further infighting which reached a crescendo when former LCD leader Pakalitha Mosisili, fell out with the party’s NEC which supported former Secretary-General Mothetjoa Metsing.
Because of the infighting, Mosisili in 2012 broke away from the LCD and formed the Democratic Congress (DC).
In 2016, Mosisili again fell out with deputy leader Monyane Moleleki, who went on to form the Alliance of Democrats (AD).
National University of Lesotho (NUL) Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences Dr. Tlohang Letsie, said while it was safe to “never say never”, there were chances that ABC might never “be the same again”.
“We cannot say for sure that the ABC factions might not reconcile. But in my opinion, chances are very slim that we will have a united ABC again,” Letsie said.
“Relations are so antagonistic and the level of trust between the warring factions is very low. Trust has been eroded.”
Letsie said what was left was for the ABC factions to outsmart each other on who would keep the party brand.
“What is remaining are two factions fighting over the brand that is the ABC. They no longer need each other,” Letsie said.
Letsie added: “I don’t see them standing on their own. It seems the other faction thinks it can do without Thabane. And, due to his conduct, his charisma has waned. However, I don’t see the other faction standing on its own if they decide to form a political party. I don’t see them forming a political party,” Letsie said.
But Letsie seemed to suggest that ABC detractors should not celebrate just yet because there might be factors that could compel them to reconcile “although it is likely to be very difficult for them to get along”.
“There might be reasons compelling them to work together again. They might work together again if Thabane expresses the need to do so.
“However, there are going to be problems because relations would be very shaky due to the strife,” Letsie said.
“There are factors that might force them to swallow their pride and reconcile with the leader.”
Factors that could force the ABC factions to reconcile and work together, Letsie said, would be some ABC MPs realising that the prolonged internal squabbles could lead to Thabane dissolving parliament and calling fresh elections, thus blurring prospects of some of them returning to parliament.
“Some of the MPs are aware that should the situation deteriorate more than it already has and elections are called, they might not bounce back as MPs. So, they will be very careful how they go about it,” Letsie said.
Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Programmes Manager, Lira Theko, said Mahao’s faction did not want to leave the party while “Thabane’s faction is ready to call it quits”.
“The Mahao faction it seems, does not see a split happening in the ABC. However, Thabane’s faction seems to have accepted that it’s time to call it quits,” Theko said.
Theko said Lesotho’s political parties lack internal conflict resolution mechanisms, hence they always split because of infighting, especially after elections.
“Who would have thought that DC would split? ABC is today also headed for a split because of elections and internal strife. There is no competition within our political parties.
“It is not allowed. It is as if leaders are demigods that are not supposed to be challenged. There is no equal participation in Lesotho’s political parties and the minute you challenge the leader, you are perceived to be on the warpath,” Theko said.
He said like Mosisili who had refused to address DC problems choosing to side with one of the warring factions, “Thabane is doing exactly the same”.
“Like Mosisili, Thabane is failing to address the ABC’s problems because he already has a side that he likes. Mosisili failed to address issues raised by Moleleki, hence the 2016 split that led to the formation of the AD. Political leaders in Lesotho are arrogant,” Theko said.
“It is high time people swallowed their pride and focused on national issues. The factionalism in the ABC is a non-issue. I cannot say it is the end for the ABC. They can still reconcile. The courts have also given them the chance to do so. They must swallow their pride on Basotho’s behalf.”
Theko said Thabane should “uphold court decisions” and not focus on what his people stood to lose because it was evident the ABC infighting was a result of “benefits that come with it such as power and access to resources”.
“The court has clearly pronounced itself on the ABC case. But because being in the NEC comes with benefits, there are some people who feel they would rather disrespect the voice of the people by, instead, advancing their personal interests,” Theko said.
“They don’t even need to enter negotiations because Thabane was elected along with several people to the NEC. ABC knows what to do to end the conflict. “However, if the leader says he doesn’t want to work with certain people, then it means he rejects the people’s vote. Even the courts have tried to make him see reason.”