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The rise and fall of Tom Thabane - a timeline

The embattled Tom Thabane has resigned as Lesotho prime minister. Where did it all begin?

FILE: All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane looks on during a rally at the Ha Abia constituency in Maseru on 8 March 2020. Picture: AFP

It is official - Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane is out. He stepped down as prime minister but not as All Basotho Congress (ABC) leader. Earlier in the day, deputy leader of new coalition partner Democratic Congress (DC), Motlalentoa Letsosa, said that the state council accepted the nomination of Moeketsi Majoro as the new prime minister. Here's how Thabane ranked the top of the Mountain Kingdom's command, and then fell.

Lesotho’s Senate, the upper house of Parliament, in April voted on a constitutional amendment that would legalise Thabane’s early retirement. The amendment was passed by the National Assembly before Thabane suspended Parliament in what was seen as an attempt to nullify it and another provision that strips him of powers to dissolve Parliament.

It was saved by the Constitutional Court when it ruled that Thabane’s decision to suspend Parliament was irrational and set aside. They used a constitutional provision that says if a prime minister loses a vote of no confidence it was their singular prerogative to resign or advise the king to dissolve Parliament and call for elections.

Thabane has been threatening that if he lost the vote before the July date that he set for himself to retire, he would use that provision.

But last month, 93 of the 120 members of the National Assembly voted for a constitutional amendment that stripped any prime minister of those powers and also provides for early retirement for the first time.

Also read: Why Lesotho's Prime Minister needs a secure retirement

Thabane served in the 70s as Principal Secretary in the kingdom, in the 80s as minister of foreign affairs under the military government, and in the 90s to 2000s as again minister of foreign affairs, minister of home affairs and minister of communications.

2006

Thabane broke away from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) to form the (ABC) with 18 of 120 Members of Parliament. The ABC became the third largest party in the National Assembly. He left the governing the LCD with a slim majority of 61 seats. Fearing that more MP's would cross the floor to join Thabane, LCD leader and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili called for early elections in 2007.

2007

ABC won 17 constituency seats, but didn't get any of the 40 proportional seats as it entered into an alliance with the Lesotho Workers Party. They agreed that all proportional seats (10) of that alliance would go to the LWP. The LCD returned again with 61 seats - but it too had entered into a similar alliance with National Independent Party which was allocated 21 proportional seats of that alliance. The outcome resulted in disputed interpretation of which party was the main opposition. The LCD used its power to deny Thabane the position of leader of opposition and gave it to its ally, the NIP - saying it had the second largest number of seats. This lead to widespread protests.

2009

Mercenaries attacked Mosisili's residence in an assassination and coup attempt. It later emerged that they were led by Thabane ally and long-time bodyguard Makotoko Lerotholi, and recruited by another Thabane ally, businessperson Jessie Ramakatane. Thabane denied any links to the attempts. The mercenaries were convicted of treason, but Lerotholi and Ramakatane died in exile in South Africa fighting their extradition in 2009 and 2015 respectively.

2012

Prime Minister Mosisili broke away from the LCD to form the Democratic Congress (DC) with 44 of 120 MPs. The DC became the biggest party in Parliament although it didn't have the 50% plus 1 majority of 61 seats. The speaker - a Mosisili ally - declared the DC as government, but due to the unrest that followed, Parliament was dissolved, leading to elections

For the first time no party won outright majority, and Thabane's ABC formed the country's first coalition with LCD and Basotho National Party (BNP), and he became Prime Minister for the first time.

2014

  • The LCD Leader Mothetjoa Metsing threatens to break away and reunite and form a new coalition with the DC, accusing Thabane of undermining his coalition partners and making unilateral decisions without consultation.

  • South Africa and the South African Development Community (SADC) intervene following a request by King Letsie III.

  • The army is suspected of backing Metsing, while the police are suspected of backing Thabane
    -Thabane fires the army commander Tlali Kamoli, and appoints Maaparankoe Mahao. Kamoli's lieutenants admit they refused to accept the letter on August 29, and in the early hours of August 30 the army makes suspicious movements at the State house in what to date remains rumoured to have been attempted coup. Thabane, BNP leader Thesele Maseribane and police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana fled in the middle of the night. The army also raided police stations, killing Sub Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko.

  • The SADC provides Thabane, Maseribane and Tsooana security to return to Lesotho.

  • The SADC appointed South Africa's then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as facilitator, and he brokered the Maseru Security Accord that saw Kamoli, Mahao and Tsooana take leaves of absence while a political solution was negotiated.

  • Thabane suspended Parliament, but Ramaphosa brokered another agreement in which parties agreed to hold elections. Parliament was reopened specifically to approve logistics for elections but the threat of a no confidence vote loomed until it was dissolved, taking Lesotho to another election in 2015 - three years earlier than scheduled

2015

  • Thabane lost elections to a coaltion of the DC, the LCD and five other parties

  • Kamoli was reappointed as army commander, but in June 2015 Mahao was shot and killed in what the army says was an attempt to arrest him for alleged mutiny. The trial of the soldiers accused of Mahao's murder is still ongoing.

  • Thabane, Maseribane and leader of Reformed Congress of Lesotho that had broken away from Metsing's LCD - Keketso Rant'so - fled to South Africa saying they believed Mahao's killers were after them.

2016

  • DC deputy leader Monyane Moleleki broke away to form the Alliance of Democrats.

  • Moleleki negotiated the return of Thabane, Maseribane and Rants'o. The AD and the opposition moved for a vote of no confidence in Mosisili. He dissolved Parliament and called for elections.

2017

  • June: Thabane signed an agreement with AD, BNP and RCL to form a coalition.

  • Two days before inauguration, Thabane's second wife Lipolelo was shot and killed outside her Ha 'Masana home.

  • Thabane is inaugurated as Prime Minister.

  • September: Army commander Khoantle Motsomotso is killed in a shootout with Colonel Bulane Sechele and Lieutenant Colonel Tefo Hashatsi - who also died.

  • The SADC deploys an intervention force and an early warning mechanism.

2018

Thabane is accused of allowing his third wife to interfere with appointment and firing of ministers and running of government.

2019

  • February: ABC holds its elective conference, retains Thabane as leader and elects Professor Nqosa Mahao as deputy leader. Thabane and his faction of the party refuse to accept the outcome, dragging the party through months of court battles and disputes over control of the party's offices.

  • June: Thabane faces several no-confidence votes from the opposition and the ABC rival faction back the opposition.

  • December: Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli writes to Thabane asking to explain who called his mobile phone from the scene where his wife, Lipolelo, was killed in 2017.

JANUARY 2020

  • Thabane writes to Molibeli asking him to show cause why he should not be fired. But Molibeli challenges the dismissal and the court papers filed include the December letter to Thabane on the phone call - which becomes public knowledge for the first time.

  • Thabane announces that the party is united and he will retire by the end of July.

  • Police write to First Lady Maesiah Thabane inviting her for questioning in connection with Lipolelo's murder. Maesiah defies the police letter. A warrant is issued for her arrest but she flees to South Africa.

  • Police question Thabane on Lipolelo's murder.

February

  • On her return Maesiah is charged with murder and attempted murder and is released on bail.

  • Thabane appears at the Maseru Magistrate court and is granted leave to challenge the charges at the Constitutional Court. His grounds - that Constitutional Court should decide if a sitting prime minister can be charged, and that charging a sitting prime could lead to a constitutional crisis.

March

  • High Court rules that Thabane cannot fire police commissioner Molibeli.

  • National Assembly votes 93 out of 120 to strip prime minister of power to dissolve Parliament and call for elections when he loses the vote of no confidence. The amendment also provides for early retirement of a sitting prime minister. But it must first be passed by the Senate - the upper house of Parliament - to be effective.

  • Thabane suspends Parliament for three months citing the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the the constitution allows him 14 days for a state emergency and he declared a 21-day national lockdown. MP's of his ABC party, the BNP and the RCL challenge the suspension in court. Their application also wanted Thabane to be declared unfit to hold office, and found to have undermined the coalition government agreement by not consulting other parties.

April

  • Thabane writes another letter to the police commissioner Molibeli, to show cause why he should not be suspended while a criminal case opened by one of his junior officers is investigated. Molibeli challenges the suspension and the High Court interdicts Thabane ordering Molibeli to remain in office until his challenge is concluded.

  • The Constitutional Court rules that Thabane's decision to suspend Parliament was irrational, null and void, and is set aside. However, the court says it has no jurisdiction to find Thabane unfit, and he is not obliged to consult his coalition partners, cabinet or his party when he suspends Parliament.

  • Thabane deploys the army, ordering it to restore law and order in line with the Defence Act, and to take action against people and institutions that he accuses of undermining the rule of law and democracy, and abusing the courts, freedom of speech and human rights.

  • President Cyril Ramaphosa deploys former minister Jeff Radebe, Deputy Minister of International Relations Candith Mashego-Dlamini, and Minister of State Security Zizi Kodwa. An understanding is reached to ensure a dignified, graceful and secure retirement for Thabane by July 2020.

MAY