Showdown looms as MPs return to parliament

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – The coming week will be a make-or-break period in Lesotho’s volatile politics parliament opens amidst Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s refusal to submit to his opponents’ demand to resign with immediate effect. Thabane is apparently digging in his heels and refusing to relinquish his position despite mounting pressure the opposition, sections of his own party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Parliament is set to return to session on Monday, after the prime minister controversially moved to prorogue the house for three months, a move described as irrational and arbitrary by the High Court. Suspension of parliament was slammed by many of his critics as unlawful and undemocratic. He prorogued parliament on March 20, apparently preventing some dissenting members of parliament from toppling him but his government said the move was merely procedural given the state of emergency in the country and public health (COVID-19) regulations prohibiting large public gatherings.

The suspension was reversed by the high court last Friday. “I am directed to inform you of the resumption of business of the Ninth Meeting of the First Session of the Tenth Parliament of the Kingdom of Lesotho at the New Parliament Building, Maseru, on Monday 27th April 2020, at 2:30 p.m.,” clerk to the national assembly, Lebohang Maema, said in a notice on Thursday.

“Hon. Members are kindly requested to arrive earlier for screening purposes in order to observe COVID-19 preventive measures,” Maema added. On Sunday and Monday, the special envoy of the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, held several protracted meetings with different stakeholders, hoping to prompt Thabane’s resignation.

Led by the former minister Jeff Radebe, the South African delegation agreed with government that it should work with other stakeholders, particularly members of Parliament (MPs), to administer Thabane’s dignified, graceful and secure retirement process. The meetings triggered media reports that it was agreed Thabane should resign before the end of this week, but it seems he is not willing to budge.

The main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa, told Public Eye yesterday that removal of the 80-year-old prime minister was necessary to provide certainty to Basotho. “He should resign today. We told the South African delegation that was here that we want him gone as soon as yesterday. If he does not resign before parliament opens on Monday, this coming week will be the most hectic in his political career,” Letsosa said. DC and ABC, together with other smaller parties, have since announced that they formed an alliance to, among others, vote together in parliament to remove Thabane whose term has been marred by allegations of corruption.

His term as prime minister ends with national elections scheduled for 2022. But since he was implicated in the murder of his estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane, there have been rumblings that he should be compelled to step down sooner. The radical South Africa’s opposition party, EFF, on Monday labelled him an “incompetent and criminal prime minister” and called for his immediate resignation. “The EFF calls for the immediate resignation of the incompetent and criminal Prime Minister of Lesotho Tom Thabane,” EFF said in a statement.

It added: “Thabane has without consulting opposition parties and even members of his own party and caucus, unilaterally suspended parliament for a period of three months.” The senate, the upper house of the parliament, is expected to vote on a constitutional amendment, barring prime minister from advising the King to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections if he loses a vote of no confidence on Tuesday.

If enacted, the bill, which is supported by members of parliament from across the political spectrum, would force the prime minister to resign if he loses a vote of confidence. The constitution currently provides that following the passing of a resolution of no confidence by the national assembly, the prime minister has a three-day limited option to resign from office or advise for the dissolution of parliament. In March 2017, the constitutional court ruled that if the prime minister acts within three days and does not resign but, instead, opts for the second option by advising the dissolution of parliament, the King is obliged to accept the advice.

The amendment, proposed by leader of the Popular for Front for Democracy (PFD) Lekhotho Rakuoane and seconded by the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing, would formally outlaw prime minister’s unilateral advice for a dissolution.

The bill sailed through the national assembly earlier this year.

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