MASERU – The increasingly vicious fight for control of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) has besmirched leader Thomas Thabane’s standing and could plunge the government he heads into terminal decline.
Analysts this week told Public Eye Thabane should mend the spreading damage although this might come too late to patch up the very apparent and seemingly irreparable tear in the party’s fabric.
Thabane, a veteran of several bruising intra-party wars, has been accused of fanning conflict in the party he formed some 13 years ago instead of calming rising tensions and keeping belligerents off each other’s throats.
Further, the analysts have advised Thabane not to succumb to pressure being exerted on him to form another political party by some quarters in the ABC, but instead the 80-year-old should apply all political skills learned over five decades to halt the infighting.
The analysts added that having outwitted former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili in 2006 when he broke away from the former ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) to form his ABC, “Thabane no longer has a story to sell to Basotho hence cannot form a new party”.
Thabane punted the anti-corruption mantra when he disengaged from the LCD, arguing that Mosisili’s government was corrupt and incompetent.
If Thabane is to outwit newly elected ABC deputy-leader Professor Nqosa Mahao, the analysts said, he should put to good use his political experience which Mahao lacks as he is a career academic.
The ABC infighting has spilled into the courts after members of the old national executive committee sought a court order to block the new NEC elected at the party’s elective indaba three weeks ago, from assuming office due to alleged irregularities.
However, some quarters of the ABC believe the move was inspired by the fact that the new committee comprises people who do not see eye to eye with Thabane.
This notion was strengthened on Monday this week when Thabane sacked two ministers namely; Social Development Minister ‘Matebatso Doti who was elected the party’s Deputy Publicity Secretary; and the Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister Lebohang Hlaele who is the Secretary-General of the disputed committee and Thabane’s son-in-law.
The pair was allegedly sacked for backing Mahao against the so-called “State House faction” which supports Thabane, comprising die-hard loyalists Minister of Water Samonyane Ntsekele, Minister of Defence Tefo Mapesela, and Senator Kemiso Mosenene; all members of the old committee.
The raging civil war exploded into the open when Thabane at a rally in Abia dismissed Mahao as a rag and non-entity who did not belong in the ABC.
The old ABC NEC had at the time barred Mahao from participating in the elective conference, which was rubber-stamped by Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, only for the Court of Appeal President Prof. Kananelo Mosito to set the decision aside.
Local political scientist Dr Fako Likoti, states that because coalitions are always fragile and with a short gestation period, the conflict within the ABC is “bound to affect operations of government”.
“Coalitions around the world have a very short gestation period. The conflict within the ABC as a leading coalition partner is bound to affect the operations of government.
“For instance, the two ministers who have just been shown the door is indicative of the spiraling out of control of this political conflict within the party that leads the coalition government,” Likoti notes.
“While the Prime Minister has the constitutional power to fire and hire ministers, the recent expulsion of the ministers reflected this conflict within the party. When a leading coalition party has failed to manage its internal conflict, this ineptitude becomes very damaging.
“The operations of government are affected. The perceptions of the international community is that of a government that failed to govern.”
In 2010, as the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) internal wrangling intensified, former party leader fired some of the top leutenants for allegedly supporting a faction that was pushing for Mosisili’s ouster and blocking Monyane Moleleki from succeeding Mosisili.
Then in January 2012 when LCD infighting worsened Mosisili went for more ministers, including then Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing who was the party’s secretary-general.
A month later in February 2012, Mosisili formed the Democratic Congress (DC).
“The fact of the matter is that ABC is deeply divided and damaged beyond repair. It went into the elective conference divided; it was inevitable that it would emerge even more divided. Firstly, the party was divided by court action that was driven by the so-called Koro-Koro faction as opposed to the State House Faction,” Likoti alleges.
“Secondly, each faction’s slate was contaminated by fights over positions. Some positions were contested by seven or six individuals. The deputy leader’s position, which was the mainstay, was contested by not less than four candidates. Normally contestants per position are three people maximum, anything more than that is a disaster in relation to party unity. Surely, this was a clear reflection of a party destined to fragment.”
Likoti adds: “During the counting of ballots ABC youth cadres attempted to create fracas by stopping, though temporarily, the counting on pretext that the elections were contaminated.
“Shortly afterwards, when counting resumed at another venue, the State House faction disappeared from the process. Thirdly, the negative utterances of the incoming publicity officer on one local Radio station, was a declaration of war to the State House faction, saying that ‘our leader is surrounded by petty ministerial criminals’.
“This was a clear sign of ABC fragmentation beyond repair. This was a clear reflection of two political parties fighting publicly. As if this was not enough, the ABC Leader issued a letter which clearly attested to the fact that the party was divided.
“The Letter known as “Lengolo la Bolisa” or an Official Letter from the Leader’s Desk, clearly took swipe at a purportedly elected committee, saying elections have irregularities and the conference was not yet over.
“In other words, the Leader was crystal clear he was with the State House faction not the elected Koro-Koro faction,” Likoti claims.
Under the circumstances, Likoti submits that Thabane’s coalition government of which he is partners with Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki, Basotho National Party (BNP) leader and Communications Minister Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader, Labour and Employment Minister, is already crumbling into a minority government, as a result of the ABC internal squabbles.
“Under this political situation, three things could happen. One of them is most certainly happening now. The current coalition is collapsing to a minority government.
“This option might work but is not sustainable. This approach while it is not viable, might hold as long as it does not offend the opposition coalition in Parliament. The second option is the banded Government of National Unity scenario,” Likoti submits.
Likoti adds that one other option could be the dissolution of parliament and call for fresh elections but quickly adds that it might not work because “the country is broke due to the rampant expenditure by the current government as well as high levels of corruption”.
“The international community might come to the party but again this is not viable. Basotho are now fatigued by elections judging from the 2017 elections voter turnout. They are also disappointed by this government and in particular the ABC Leadership which created an expectations overload.
“Despite leading the coalition administration, the ABC has been unable to meet these high expectations made to the electorates. This is the problem with populist parties like ABC. They promise everything and deliver nothing,” Likoti says.
Likoti added Thabane should desist from forming a party as he is a smart politician and that “you don’t have to be Thabane to see that those elections were pure fabrication”.
“Why form a party when these elections were infested with so many irregularities? I don’t see Thabane forming a party. My reading is that, if the Koro-Koro faction doesn’t form one, they will either succumb to the wrath of Thabane or cross to other parties in parliament.
“The ABC is a fractured party and is no more a large party, let alone the fact that its claim to be the biggest party in Lesotho is not verifiable. The ABC project has ended and Thabane, in order to survive in politics, is left with one option: to fight politically.”
Rapelang Mosae of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) said the ABC infighting as senior partner of the coalition government, has a direct bearing on the stability of government.
According to Mosae, the trend in Lesotho politics is that NEC positions in ruling parties were fought for because their members stand a high chance of making it to cabinet and that any change in the composition of the NEC “endangers ministerial posts hence the impasse in the ABC”.
“Therefore, one can say that when the ABC sneezes the whole country indeed catches a cold. Another trend in Lesotho is for political parties to split when there is conflict in the NECs and should ABC follow the same route, a result might be elections, however elections are the most unlikely event.
“A more likely event is that one of the two camps in the ABC will join another party possibly one in the present coalition government,” Mosae asserts.
“Thabane has the option of forming a new political party like so many have done before him.
“However, unlike those who have done it before him and unlike him when he formed the ABC, he does not enjoy support of his followers in the ABC, and he does not enjoy support of most of Basotho.
“Hence, forming a new party would be a political blunder on his side. It is hard to even see the story he would successfully sell to Basotho that would lead them to follow him.
“Political parties formed by leaders who had fallen out with their parties have never succeeded, (TRU formed by former ABC deputy-leader Tlali Khasu is just one example)
“The success of a new party formed by Thabane from the ABC is highly doubtful, especially due to the fact that he seems to be enjoying less and less public support by the day. We need to understand that the success of ABC rested on the premise that Thabane was a leader who wanted reconciliation of Basotho and wanted to fight corruption, that he submitted was so rife in Lesotho and that he had seen it all during his many years in government.”
Mosae further maintains, Thabane painted the picture of a victim who was being chastised by his previous party (LCD) for speaking out against maladministration and corruption.
“He painted that picture of a prodigal son who just wanted to make amends. However, most of what he said is now being interpreted as just another political party manifesto with little or no truth.
For example, it was widely believed that Thabane was old and just wanted to make amends hence he would not want a second term in office,” Mosae claims.
“But he has recently stated how he will seek a second term, to the surprise of most of his followers. Thabane is not enjoying the support of some quarters in his own party. For a while the ABC has been working on a succession plan with the understanding that Thabane would step down eventually.
“He has, however, been painting the picture of a dictator who is afraid of competition by fighting his deputies or even those earmarked to deputise him, Tlali Khasu, Moeketsi Majoro as well as Prof. Mahao are all a case in point.”
The fact that Thabane openly supported the NEC in fighting for Mahao’s ouster from the party, Mosae adds, dealt him a great blow because it is well-known that he campaigned using the death of the late Lt. Gen. Mapaarankoe Mahao who is Prof. Mahao’s younger brother, hence him now fighting the NUL Vice Chancellor has been “interpreted as an insult as well as a betrayal to the memory of Mahao”.
“The fact that Thabane is part of the NEC that now fails to honour the results from the elective conference, further costs him huge blows politically as he further depicts himself as a tyrant who does not abide by the ethos of democracy and all principles of good governance,” Mosae says.
Mosae further maintains that when one looks at the results of the elective conference, they show unequivocally that winners are members of the ABC who did not enjoy Thabane’s favour, suggesting that he (Thabane) “no longer has a firm control over party delegates”
“In Lesotho we know that party delegates sent to partake in the elective conference, are simply there to rubberstamp the wishes of the leader.
“However, in this last elective conference, we did not see that, signaling the leader’s weakening grip on the delegates and the party as a whole. Lastly, Thabane is now seen as a leader who is being controlled by his spouse who makes him make bad decisions hence most of his followers no longer trust him,” Mosae alleges.
“In a nutshell it is highly unlikely that a new political party formed by Thabane would enjoy support. Thabane has lost support from the majority of the electorate.
“Moreover, he no longer has any bargaining power or much to sell to the electorate to justify forming another party. In the eyes of many Basotho, if he was to form a party, he would be seen as a bad leader who wanted and failed to corrupt his own party, and now formed another in order to misuse it.”
Independent local political analyst Arthur Majara submits that Thabane is not swayed by the infighting rocking the ABC because “he is shrewd” and Mahao “cannot hope to compete with Thabane and succeed”.
According to Majara, Thabane is a power-hungry man who has over time amassed the support of Lesotho’s security agencies “to feed his love for power”.
“I will not mince my words on this show-off between Mahao and Thabane. For starters, Thabane is a very experienced politician dating back to the 60’s. He grew to be very shrewd over time and has been with ABC since 2006, the year he founded the party. He will not just let go,” Majara asserts.
Majara also alleges that being married to his young wife ‘MaIsaiah Thabane who is 38 years younger and whose alleged meddling in party issues has resulted in the intra-party conflict “makes Thabane very dangerous”.
“He (Thabane) has seen it all and with age catching up with him, he is married to a young woman who is very enterprising in politics and very protective. This alone sets a very scary precedent knowing how demanding youthfulness in a wife can be on the old folks. All in all, this makes Thabane a very dangerous politician,” Majara notes.
Mahao on the other hand, Majara further asserts, is an academic of repute, but very naive to the extent of allowing “his qualifications to run into his head” and has suffered trauma due to the death of his younger brother Maaparankoe.
“Given the background of the two it is not surprising that Thabane is unleashing his despotic tactics to cling to power looking at the tug of war surrounding NEC election supported by his cohorts, the outgoing NEC members. You can take it from there that he will leave no stone unturned to hold onto power. This is the dilemma we are facing, the ruling party and the country.
“In the meantime, all other forces within the party and opposition parties could push through their fight to dislodge Thabane through voting down the 2019/20 budget and thus precipitate a vote-of-confidence. If Thabane does not challenge it like in the Mosisili/Moleleki saga, it could result in a new prime minister lead or even worse, national elections.”
Since Thabane has already ruled out the formation of a new political party in the form of a guidance letter circulated throughout ABC structures and constituencies a fortnight ago, Majara says “on this one it remains to be seen what would be his next step”.
“The nation is held at ransom because of sick political party democratic dispensation, which at national level Thabane has portrayed himself as the vanguard of such rule. Alas! Something he does not practice at home in the ABC,” Majara scoffs.