ANALYSIS: Why Lesotho's Prime Minister Thabane needs a secure retirement
Lesotho’s pending constitutional amendment that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special envoy Jeff Radebe says will pave the way for prime minister Tom Thabane to retire, could see the Deputy Prime Minister go head-to-head with the minister of finance.
Radebe says the political parties have agreed to ensure a dignified, graceful and secure retirement for Thabane.
WHY THE SECURE EXIT
Radebe led a delegation that was sent when the 80-year-old Prime Minister deployed the army, after being interdicted from suspending the police commissioner and being told by the constitutional court that his decision to suspend parliament was irrational.
In addition to dodging countless votes of no confidence, Thabane and his third wife, Maesiah, are facing murder charges for the execution-style fatal-shooting of his second wife Lipolelo Thabane in 2017, and the attempted murder of Lipolelo’s friend Thato Sibolla, who was also shot but survived.
Thabane is waiting for the Constitutional Court to hear his application challenging the murder charges on the grounds that charging a sitting prime minister would lead to a constitutional crisis.
Maesiah is awaiting trial on bail.
These are some of the reasons why he wants a dignified and secure retirement.
ABOUT THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
The current constitution gives the prime minister unilateral power to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections if he loses a vote of no confidence.
It is the the reason why Lesotho went to three elections in seven years - in 2012, 2015, and 2017.
The amendment, on the other hand, says when a prime minister resigns, retires or dies, the National Assembly will elect a successor who enjoys a simple majority of the 120 seat house.
It also says that should the National Assembly fail to elect a successor, the king may appoint a caretaker government headed by the incumbent deputy prime minister.
MOLELEKI VS MAJORO
The current coalition consists of Thabane’s ABC, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho.
The parliamentary caucus of Thabane’s ABC decided in a vote that it wanted Minister of Finance Moeketsi Majoro to take over as prime minister when Thabane retires.
Although not united, that caucus has 52 Members of Parliament (MPs), and it is supported by the main opposition Democratic Congress with 26 MPs.
When Parliament was suspended, the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding to vote together for a successor, and to form a new coalition government as soon as the National Assembly sits.
The Constitutional Court has now ruled that Thabane’s decision to suspend Parliament was irrational, and that means all bills that were pending before Parliament will now be concluded.
They include the constitutional amendment that strips the Prime Minister of powers to unilaterally dissolve parliament and call for elections when he loses a no confidence vote.
The amendment also introduces, for the first time, a provision for the retirement of a sitting prime minister.
The undertaking brokered by Radebe means all parties that have been calling for Thabane to step down have agreed to wait for the senate - the upper house of Parliament - to pass that amendment.
As soon as that amendment is passed, Thabane will not be a threat that can dissolve Parliament, and the National Assembly can force him to resign earlier that the July date that he set for himself, or face a vote of no confidence that he will inevitably lose, leading to his resignation anyway.
Any of these two events will automatically mean the National Assembly will elect a successor, and by the look of numbers it will be Majoro.
Moleleki remains Thabane’s close ally, and as Deputy Prime Minister Moleleki is also the leader of the house responsible for scheduling business in the National Assembly.
In the past he has used his position to block or delay no confidence votes against Thabane on technicalities.
This time around a no confidence vote in Thabane will likely mean that he won’t be a successor, and his party will be left out in the cold as the new formation takes over.
BNP and RCL leader Keketso Rantso were among applicants that challenged Thabane’s suspension of Parliament in the ConCourt.
They succeeded on lifting the suspension, but their other prayers that didn’t succeed, were that the court should find Thabane unfit to hold office and incapable of leading government.
When Thabane deployed the army he said some people and institutions where undermining the rule of law and abusing the courts, a day after that constitutional court ruling and the police commissioner’s interdict.
It was clear therefore that the people and institutions he was referring to were the police, the police commissioner, the BNP and the RCL among others.
His orders were that the army should take action in line with the defence force act against those people and institutions, effectively declaring martial law.
That means if a no confidence vote happens, AD is likely to vote for Thabane, while BNP and RCL will vote against him.
But the big question is: will Thabane unite the ABC and its coalition partners and resign before a vote of no confidence so that the current coalition remains under Moleleki as prime minister, or will he be forced out with a vote of no confidence that will give the DC leverage to form a new government with ABC under Prime Minister Majoro - leaving AD, BNP and RCL out in the cold?