Lesotho: three Governments in five years!

The small country called Lesotho has political problems bigger than itself. In the past five years, the country has had three Governments, the latest being just a week old.

All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane is once again Lesotho Prime Minister, 28 months after handing over power to his Democratic Congress (DC) rival and outgoing premier Pakalitha Mosisili.

A coalition of four parties namely the ABC, the Monyane Moleleki-led Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) yesterday announced they had cobbled together their combined 63 seats to form the country’s third coalition government after last Saturday’s parliamentary elections.

The ABC combined its 48 seats with the AD’s nine, BNP’s five and the RCL’s one, enabling them to pass the 61-seat threshold required to form government in the 120-seat National Assembly.

ABC spokesperson, Tefo Mapesela, yesterday told the Lesotho Times the four parties would notify King Letsie III of their agreement today, to set in motion the process of forming government.

Dr Thabane’s return to the premiership is a spectacular comeback for the ABC leader who only returned in February 2017 from exile in South Africa.

Dr Thabane fled the country on 11 May 2015, after alleging a Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) plot to assassinate him for falling out with its command in his first tenure as premier from 2012 to 2014. He was joined in exile by BNP leader, Thesele ‘Maseribane and RCL leader Keketso Rantšo on 13 and 26 May 2015 respectively.

The duo also fled the country citing plots to assassinate them by members of the LDF, an accusation the latter has vehemently denied.

The ABC, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and BNP formed a coalition government after the 26 May 2012 general election had resulted in a hung parliament. However, the coalition government collapsed in 2014 after LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing accused Dr Thabane of not consulting him on key governance decisions.

Dr Thabane accused Mr Metsing of helping to plan an LDF raid on three key Maseru police stations on the morning of 30 August 2014 which the former described as a coup attempt. Mr Metsing has and the LDF have vehemently denied the allegations.

The raid, which left one police officer dead, triggered a chain of unsavoury events that led to the collapse of the Dr Thabane-led coalition government and intervention by SADC in an effort to avert a complete breakdown of the rule of law in Lesotho.

However, addressing a press conference at Victoria Hotel in Maseru last weekend, Dr Thabane said the incoming government was fully committed to serving the nation and would not harbour any thoughts of vengeance for the hurt they experienced during their time as the opposition.

“We the leaders of ABC, AD, BNP and RCL are cognisant of the fact that on 3 June, 2017 Basotho went out in droves to once again exercise the prerogative to elect their new government in line with the call of His Majesty the King for a fresh election just over two years since the 2015 elections,” Dr Thabane said.

He said the elections were observed by a broad spectrum of local and international observers with a keen interest to see if Basotho would elect a government that could bring about peace and stability in the country.

“We are fully cognisant of our mandate to work tirelessly for peace and stability as well as economic recovery and prosperity.

“We accept in full and without any hesitation, this profound mandate to assuage the long standing aspirations of this nation, and in this respect we intend to form a government of all Basotho without any form of discrimination, a government that is committed to the rule of law, reunification of the nation, good governance, rebuilding and strengthening of the of the pillars of democracy and abhors corruption in all its forms.”

He also declared their willingness to work with other political parties as long as they share “the goal of a peaceful and well governed Lesotho” as a first step towards the reunification of Basotho.

Dr Thabane expressed hope that the soon to be opposition parties would behave in accordance with democratic norms.

He also said they had noted with concern some “stupid” statements alleging that the ABC-led government planned to eliminate the LDF.

The ABC leader said such statements were meant to sow unnecessary divisions among Basotho, adding: “The army is part and parcel of the tapestry of this country.”

He concluded by saying the new government would move quickly on the implementation of security sector reforms, “so that we can protect the security forces from selfish politicians that preserve themselves in power using national institutions such as the LDF and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service”.

All four leaders of the new coalition attended yesterday’s press conference.

Early general elections were held in Lesotho on 3 June 2017 to elect all 120 seats of the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament. The elections were called more than three years ahead of schedule due to a successful vote of no confidence against the incumbent Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

After three years out of power, Pakalitha Mosisili returned to office as Prime Minister in the February 2015 general election as leader of the Democratic Congress, defeating Prime Minister Tom Thabane of the All Basotho Convention. However, in November 2016 an agreement was announced between the deputy leader of the Democratic Congress, Monyane Moleleki, and Tom Thabane to remove Mosisili and install Moleleki as Prime Minister.

Moleleki was suspended from the Democratic Congress in December 2016 and launched a new party, the Alliance of Democrats, in January 2017.

On 12 February 2017 Thabane returned to Lesotho from self-imposed exile, declaring that Prime Minister Mosisili no longer commanded a parliamentary majority and vowing to oust him in a vote of no confidence. He claimed that he was risking his life by returning.

The new opposition alliance defeated Mosisili in a vote of no confidence on 1 March 2017 and proposed Moleleki as the new Prime Minister; Mosisili, faced with the choice of stepping aside in favour of Moleleki or calling an early election, chose the latter. He advised King Letsie III to dissolve Parliament, and the King did so on 7 March, despite an opposition effort to obstruct the move. It was announced on 13 March that an early election would be held on 3 June 2017.

The 120 members of the National Assembly are elected using the mixed-member proportional representation system, with voters casting a single vote. Eighty members are elected from single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting, with the remaining 40 elected from a single nationwide constituency in a closed list as levelling seats. The votes from every constituency are totalled (with votes cast for independent candidates ignored) to give a nationwide total for each party. A quota of the 120 total seats in the National Assembly is then calculated using each party’s vote share and the number of seats won in constituencies is deducted in order to give the number of the 40 levelling -seats that a party is due. If the total number of seats due to be awarded is less than 120, the highest remainder method is used to distribute the remaining leveling seats.

Partial results available by 5 June, with counting for 57 constituencies completed, showed Thabane’s opposition party, the ABC, winning 45 constituencies against only eight for Mosisili’s party, the Democratic Congress.

Full results were released on 6 June, confirming a victory for Thabane and the ABC, which won 48 seats against 30 for Mosisili’s Democratic Congress. The ABC said that it planned to form a government in coalition with the Alliance of Democrats, the Basotho National Party, and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.[9] A government statement on 8 June said that Mosisili had submitted his resignation to King Letsie but would continue in a caretaker capacity.

However, on 9 June, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, said that “there is no need for the removal of the existing government in office” and argued for the formation of “a government of national unity” for the sake of national stability.

But three governments in five years might just be too much. As to what the future holds, only time will tell.