MASERU – The sudden defection of two Alliance of Democrats (AD) Members of Parliament (MPs) for the ruling Democratic Congress (DC) has left the National Assembly in a serious quandary as to which party should be the official leader of the opposition.
This is because the numbers for the AD have dropped from 13 to 11 following the departure of the two MPs which means now AD and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) have an equal number of MPs. Professor Motlamelle Kapa of the National University of Lesotho says they only consider principles when analysing politics and nothing else.
He says a person becomes an official leader of opposition when his party has a majority of seats in the party. So in the case of AD leader Monyane Moleleki, it is not clear what would happen following the two MPs’ defection to the DC. The two MPs are Mokherane Tsatsanyane from Stadium Area and Tele’s Mothepu Mahapa. Professor Kapa says by the look of things, AD and the LCD seem to have equal seats in parliament. “Let’s wait and see what the Speaker would say,” he says.
He says here the principle is different from the case of the Constituency where when there is a gap, the Constitution says there should be a by-election. Kapa says the people who are on the ground should know better. Professor Hoolo ’Nyane, a constitutional law expert from the University of Limpopo, says there is no direct precedent in Lesotho for a situation where two second largest parties in parliament were equal in numerical strength. But if the two parties have an equal number of seats in parliament, the status quo would remain the same.
’Nyane said in order for LCD to lay a successful claim to the position, it would have to demonstrate that either on its own or in coalition with other parties, it has surpassed AD with numerical strength. “It is the first time that we have this scenario in Lesotho’s parliamentary practice, where two political parties with second numerical strength to government are themselves equal,” he says. He says the nearest we have had was the 2017 case of the present Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu.
Mokhothu was the opposition leader in parliament after the 2017 General Election when he lost two MPs to the AD. MP for Tele Mothepu Mahapa and Tlohelang Aumane of Semena crossed the floor, leaving Mokhothu’s numbers below the official mark. The Speaker of the time told him he had forfeited his position as the leader of opposition.
Nyane says the other parties pledged to support Mokhothu to remain the leader but the Speaker of the National Assembly at the time, Sephiri Motanyane, refused to budge citing the ruling that was made by then Speaker, Ntlhoi Motsamai, in relation to former Prime minister Motsoahae Thabane after 2007 election.
This saw Mokhothu dragging the matter to the court where the court ruled in his favour. The court said if the other parties join forces to help Mokhothu become the leader, so there should be no hurdles. ’Nyane said a good interpretation of the law in any possible stalemate between AD and LCD is that the status quo should remain.
He said the position has to be for a single party having the second highest numerical strength in the national assembly or coalition of parties. And in this case, the LCD or the coalition of parties supporting it should join forces to have AD leader replaced as a leader of opposition in parliament. “If the LCD cannot demonstrate that it is the second largest party, either on its own or in coalition with others, then the status quo should remain,” ‘Nyane says.
Professor Kopano Makoa says the status quo has to remain unless LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing complains. Even then, it will not only depend on Metsing’s complaint but on what the other smaller parties say. Professor Makoa said the Speaker would have to resolve this while insisting Moleleki has to remain leader of opposition in parliament.