February 2017

A vote of no confidence and Mosisili’s hint of a coup

Bird’s eye view of Lesotho politics
A week ago, three leaders of the political parties represented in parliament, returned from exile and were joined by the leader of the Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader and thousands of supporters in Maseru. This was only the beginning of the political drama that awaits the country in the next few weeks. All four leaders, Motsoahae Thabane (ABC), Thesele ‘Maseribane (BNP), Keketso Rant’so (RCL) and Monyane Moleleki (AD), were unanimous in calling for the ouster of Pakalitha Mosisili from the premiership of Lesotho when Parliament resumes. For understandable reasons, they cajoled their supporters to stand with them in the gigantic struggle they were about to engage in when Parliament reopens 24/02/2017. They all acknowledged that Mosisili is a hard nut to crack but that he is at his most vulnerable in his sixteenth years as Lesotho Prime Minister.
Mosisili on the other hand was also rallying his supporters in the Leribe district to be part of the resistance against any attempt to oust him. In contrasting styles, both Mosisili and the opposition were actively mobilising against each other. While the opposition was talking about the vote of no confidence they would lodge with Parliament, Mosisili was in a threatening mood, arguing that he would not hand over power to anybody. On the contrary, he would opt for an election. He went further to say that nobody can push him out of office. The issue which therefore is central to the struggle in the coming days is whether there will be a constitutional resolution or whether a coup is in the making.
Since the arrival of the opposition political leaders from exile and their massive welcome rally on 12/02/2017 and Mosisili’s speech in Mphosong, I have seen little significance being put on the possibility or likelihood of a coup being attempted as a direct result of the two contrasting visions of the future of constitutional government in Lesotho. On the contrary, there is premature euphoria on the part of the opposition parties focusing on counting numbers of the Members of Parliament on their side as opposed to the declining fortunes of the government side. This is premature celebration syndrome! On the government side, we have seen increasing threats that members of Parliament will lose their benefits and also that their side will resist the pressure to hand over power. Signs of a fight to the end are plentiful for those who want to see them. Mosisili is most likely going to dig in his hills in whatever eventuality. This is going to be a long haul rather than a sprint!
Constituting a government in government
In Lesotho, like in most parliamentary systems of government, the government is formed by the party or combination of parties which make the majority of members of parliament after an election. This is governed by Section 86 of the Constitution of Lesotho. It is ipso facto expected that the same situation should prevail throughout the life of Parliament. Exceptions however exist whereby a minority government can rule with the concurrence of the majority in parliament. That is normally a very weak government which can only undertake routine matters rather than major decisions. It cannot take place in Lesotho’s divided society where there is no consensus even on issues like rule of law.
When Mosisili in 2015 managed to cobble a seven party coalition government, his numbers were sixty five (65) in a one twenty (120) seat parliament. When Moleleki broke away from Mosisili’s party with fourteen constituency based members of Parliament, who are allowed to cross the floor in terms of Lesotho’s Constitution, Mosisili’s government has been fatally injured. Indeed in a letter dated 16/02/2017 Mokhele Moletsane, AD Secretary General writing to the Speaker of the National Assembly, says as much that following the formation of a new political party its members of Parliament wish to rise in their seats “….in the National Assembly and crossing the floor to join the opposition benches on Friday 24th February 2017.” We are aware that there are at least ten other members of Parliament who cannot officially cross the flow in terms of Lesotho’s constitution, but will most likely vote with the opposition. This fact has been acknowledged by Mosisili in one of his recent speeches. The Speaker, who is a Member of Parliament from the ruling coalition, is stuck with them even if the DC were to complain, because she made a decision earlier in 2016 to reject the request by BNP to have two of its dissident members of Parliament replaced. There can’t be one rule against BNP and another for DC.
There are however two other former ABC Members of Parliament who are forming a new political party who will certainly vote with the government. They have not yet been registered with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as political parties which can contest elections. A split in the LCD whereby Selibe Mochoboroane, formerly its Secretary General has formed his party makes the situation more perilous for the government. Mochoboroane claims that he has the support of four other Members from LCD, who also cannot cross the floor for similar reasons to those from the DC. He has indicated, that he will move to the cross bench when the National Assembly resumes. If he were to abandon the government, Mosisili’s numbers would be more perilous. Like the two deserters from ABC, Mochoboroane’s political party has not yet been registered by the IEC as eligible to contest elections. None of these improves Mosisili’s chances of survival in Parliament.
What then can Mosisili do to survive on 24/02/2017 when Parliament resumes? Is he able to pull out any unexpected strategy against these odds? Hints of his strategy were spelled out clearly in Mphosong, in the Leribe district Saturday 11/02/2017. In a similar manner Mosisili’s political storm trooper, Ramat’sella in an unbelievable vitriol, announced in a radio station which seems to have no ethical limits, that unleashing of violence is in the cards within weeks. Judging from previous statements by the same, we have seen that he normally speaks publicly what others are whispering about. He called for the killing of the editor of Lesotho Times, a local newspaper, a few months ago, and true to his words, the editor was ambushed and shot. He got serious injuries but did not die.
The makings of a coup (the world according to Mosisili)
Explaining his dilemma/predicament in Parliament when it resumes next Friday, Mosisili concedes that he has lost support in the National Assembly, but resorts to blaster and threats to his political foes. But significantly he spent time trying to assure them that he was not going to hand over power to anybody if he loses the vote of no confidence in Parliament. He outlines that there are three options open to him. He argues:
 Prime Minister can resign and hand over power to the person who has been indicated in the motion of no confidence to have the support of the majority of members of Parliament. This is how the Lesotho Constitution spells this out. He quickly dismisses this option and vows that he would never hand over power to anybody;
 Prime Minister can go to His Majesty to request the dissolution of Parliament. He points out that this is the option he likes. In his own words in Sesotho he argues “…..’Me leo lekhalo ke leo ke le ratang haholo, le nepahetse. ……..” He however goes further to argue that when Prime Minister goes to see the King to dissolve Parliament, he goes alone and there is no role for the Council of State. As will be pointed out in the next section, this cannot be close to the truth. But that is not even the important issue. The next part of his speech provides a clear indication of the direction he wishes to take in the event of the vote of no confidence in Parliament succeeding.
 He goes further to outline the third option which he quickly dismisses since he will not follow if the vote of no confidence succeeds. This option is the one where after the vote of no confidence, the Prime Minister neither resigns no recommends to the King the dissolution of Parliament. Three days after the successful motion in parliament, under those circumstances, the matter now is in the hands of the King to seek the advice of the Council of State. He goes further to argue that the only thing which the Council of State can advise the King on is the dissolution of Parliament and nothing else. Moreover, he argues, the King cannot push Prime Minister from office even with the Council of State. There is no Section in the Constitution which allows the King to remove the Prime Minister from office. Meaning that the Council of State can only advise the King to dissolve Parliament. (…’nete e salang ke hore Motlotlehi a keke a sutumetsa Tona Kholo hore a tsoe ka ofising le ka lona lekhotla la naha. Ha hona temana ka hara molao oa motheo ka mono e reng Motlotlehi a ka leleka Tona Kholo. Ha e eo. Eleng hore ntho eo lekhotla leo la naha le ka eletsang Motlotlehi ho e etsa ke hona ho qhala Paramente ho uoe likhethong…..) What therefore does this mean if the constitution says otherwise?
Constitutional provisions versus Mosisili’s world
Mosisili lives in an impunity bubble which makes him ignore the law when it does not suit his desires to continue in office even when circumstances no longer permit. Indeed, he was in a trance for two and half years when he was outmanoeuvred out of power in 2012. He however, did not accept that situation and colluded with the military to destabilise that regime until it collapsed and he was able to cobble a coalition of seven political parties in 2015 to get back to power. It is thus understandable if he now vows to refuse to hand over power to anybody. But short of staging a coup, as I will argue, the law does not back his stance.
The Westminster form of government is guided by laws, conventions and practices. It is not a question of whether one wants to leave office, but what is provided in the law. Lesotho law which directly deals with the issues raised by Mosisili is found largely in Sections 83 and 87. The law provides that the King may at any time prorogue or dissolve Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister. Section 83(4) (a) spells out the conditions:
(a) If the Prime Minister recommends a dissolution and the King considers that the Government of Lesotho can be carried on without a dissolution and that a dissolution would not be in the interests of Lesotho, he may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, refuse to dissolve Parliament;
The above Section of the Constitution makes it clear that Mosisili’s bubble is a false one. The King is not bound to accept Mosisili’s diktat on this matter. If the King considers that the government can be reconstituted with or without Mosisili he is constitutionally obliged to summon the Council of State to consider the matter. Once the Council of State has proffered an advice in writing, in terms of Section 95(7), it is mandatory for any person or body. Saying anything contrary to that is mischievous to say the least. The only other way of understanding that is that Mosisili is giving notice of his intention to defy the law, should he lose the vote of no confidence.

More significantly, Mosisili’s claim that there is no section in the law that authorises the King to remove the Prime Minister is also false. He actually starts off by using the term “push him out of office”. (Motlotlehi a ke ke a sutumetsa Tona Kholo hore a tsoe ka ofising, le ka lekhotla la naha) Section 87(5) which refutes this delusion is quoted in extenso hereunder:
The King may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, remove the Prime Minister from office-
(a) If a resolution of no confidence in the Government of Lesotho is passed by the National Assembly and the Prime Minister does not within three days thereafter, either resign from his office or advise a dissolution of Parliament;
Reading both Section 83 and 87 of the Constitution, it is clear that Mosisili is bound to obey the King after a successful vote of no confidence and the advice of the Council of State. Anything else is outside the law. The only suggestion he may be making is that he is prepared to act unconstitutionally by force. There is precedence for these types of actions in recent Lesotho politics. In August 2014, Kamoli abetted by Mosisili and his allies refused to accede to his removal as Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force. The consequences of that are well known. It is that action which launched Lesotho into the ongoing security crisis. Also in 2014, Mochoboroane, then Minister of Communications, refused a lawful dismissal even after the official government gazette was published. All these were accomplished by the unlawful alliance of some of those in the Lesotho Defence Force. Mochoboroane was untouchable.
These are the early signs of a plan to resist lawful authority by relying on both the military and the political storm troopers at Mosisili’s disposal. It can however be asked whether an election is not a legitimate way to resolve the current crisis? Is anybody scared of going to elections now or in the immediate future? Elections as we all know can resolve political impasses but they are not a solution to a security crisis. Lesotho went into the 2015 elections within a security vacuum and that did not resolve anything. On the contrary the elections propelled the country into an even worse situation. Security sector reforms clearly need to precede elections. In the next section, I indicate why Mosisili wants elections now rather than at the end of the term of this Parliament.
Why Mosisili wants elections now?
In a strange way, Mosisili whose party has been declining and has just split in two insist on holding elections. The real issue for him is not about elections and his prospects after such elections. It is largely three things which force him to try to force an election. First of all, he wants elections now when he is still in control of the unreformed state apparatus. It’s not only about the use of state resources for campaigning, though that is important too. He wants to have elections before any security sector reforms are undertaken. He is not oblivious to the fact that free and fair elections will not improve his situation. On the contrary, he wants to ensure that his iron grip on the military becomes his main electoral strategy. Those of his allies in the military, who were largely junior officers following him and Kamoli, have now been promoted over and over within one year and are now in charge of all sectors of the military. The detained and exiled soldiers who were largely from the higher echelons of the army, would now find that their influence is no more. But Mosisili has gone further to deploy another of his allies in the army to head the National Intelligence Service, thus blurring the operations of the military and civilian intelligence services.
The importance of this control of the politicised security services cannot be underestimated. The credibility of the 2015 elections lay largely on the decision by the then government of the day, supported by SADC, to ensure that the army was confined to the barracks on elections day. As we know, Mosisili and his allies cried foul for such confinement. The reason was obvious, they wanted to use the military to intimidate and rig the elections. The unleashing of the state organised or orchestrated violence would most certainly lead to an election which would not reflect the view of the Basotho people. In recent times, we have seen an election where such state and state supported violence led to the victory of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Such elections would neither be free nor fair. They would not be credible. This is why Mosisili wants elections now rather than later. This is also the reason why those who want free, fair and credible elections should not fall for his strategy of calling elections now.
The second main reason why Mosisili wants to have elections now is to avoid or postpone the implementation of the SADC decisions arising from the Phumaphi Commission. The key issue in the Report was to remove Kamoli from office. The next priority was to have those of his allies in the military who have murdered Lt. General Mahao, Sub Inspector Ramahloko and several others; and those suspected of High Treason; bombing of some homes; and other serious crimes be suspended while investigations are completed in those crimes. The investigations, as observers have pointed out, are unlikely to end with the fingering of only foot soldiers, but are likely going to also point to those who conspired, abetted those crimes and those who hampered investigations. Arresting the puppet without also arresting the puppeteer would not have solved the questions of impunity amongst our political class in Lesotho. This is Mosisili’s worst fear!
Finally, Mosisili is very anxious to complete the deployment of his allies and family in all strategic areas of the government so that he could rule from the grave, as the saying goes, when he is no longer in office. If there were elections in Lesotho, he would have an additional three months to deploy his allies and his relatives in strategic areas. If he loses power in an election, the new government would be disrupted for a long time before it is able to either remove the unworthy or find a ways of dealing with them. There is a method to what seems to be irrational actions by Mosisili.
Could it also be that Mosisili would not want to hand over power to either Thabane or Moleleki? Can his actions be attributed to the politics of hate? Moleleki in an interview with one local newspaper alluded to the hatred which drives Mosisili. It could therefore also be possible that over and above the political and security fears he has, he is also fighting for the sake of spiting his enemies.
Mosisili’s vehement denial that the King does not have an option but to dissolve Parliament if he advises him so has been shown to be false. The King can refuse to dissolve Parliament if such a move is not in the national interest. With the support of the Council of State, a new government can be formed at least four days after a vote of no confidence. In Germany that can be done within forty eight hours. Again, Mosisili’s claim that the King cannot “push him” out of office is ridiculous. Kings don’t push people out of office; on the contrary they can remove them. Section 87 of the Constitution spells that out clearly. It is not a personal struggle between the King trekking Mosisili out of office, it is the question of letting the law run its course if the King removes him. His denial of the existence of the law to that effect, gives a clear indication that he wants to defy any such order. Staying in power outside the law can only succeed if he uses State institutions to hold on to power by force. Thus the suggestion of a coup under planning is not farfetched.
It is for the above observations that Basotho and the friends of Lesotho should be on the lookout. Coups in Africa in the 21st century are possible but cannot be sustained. Be warned!


Panic and desperation as Mosisili’s coalition government implodes

  • When police in an unstable regime, make statement after statement warning the citizens not to congregate or do one thing or another, experience has taught us that such a regime is on notice. It is always a sign of panic and desperation by the declining order or one which is imploding. Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the police issuing warnings to people not to go to the airport to welcome one of the political leaders; we have also witnessed, a futile attempt to stop thousands of people at the Maseru border to welcome some of the exiles who returned to Lesotho a week ago; we are now hearing warnings in radio stations that the people should not attempt to go to the Maseru border to welcome the three political leaders who are also returning to Lesotho from exile. These are the signs of a collapsing regime. It relies more on fear than acceptance. The problem for the Mosisili regime is that it no longer has the necessary support in parliament and outside to rule legitimately. This is likely to be demonstrated by the crowds which will attend the welcome rally on 12/02/2017 of the three political leaders who have been in exile for close to two years. History is likely to be made in front of our eyes. This is so because people no longer fear the regime.
    When Mosisili cobbled together a coalition government made up of seven political parties in Lesotho after the 2015 snap elections, it was obvious to all that the coalition would not endure. It was made up of political parties which largely had no following except Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) which as will be shown below had some following. But even that, the LCD was a declining political force which could not do without leaning heavily on the military. Those on Mosisili’s side however argued that the coalition would be stable and could endure until 2020 when the next elections are expected. The main reason they put up was that that motley of small insignificant political parties were breakaways of the Congress parties which allegedly shared a common ideology even if they had set themselves up as separate political entities.
    Understandably the minor parties were not really there for anything except to ensure that they remain in government since on their own they could not envisage being in government. This arrangement ensured that the least popular parties in terms of the results of the 2015 elections were in government with their single seat allowing them to be ministers. In some instances, some of those were not able to get even 2000 votes countrywide while the quota for one seat was 4600 in the 2015 elections. It was thus understood that those small parties could not influence the stability or otherwise of the coalition. It was not in their interests to attempt anything that could result in them losing their ministerial pecks. Therefore as long as the DC and the LCD agreed on the way forward, the chances of the coalition falling apart were remote.
    It was however also possible to envisage the split between the two primary coalition partners in view of the arrangements for sharing of power which tended to favour the smaller LCD at the expense of the DC. From the very beginning, there were murmurs that the deputy leader of the DC was marginalised by placing several leaders of the coalition parties which had virtually no following above him in the pegging order of government protocol. This is why when the fight the soul of the DC was being contested, one of Mosisili’s ministers was able to publicly say that the deputy leader of the DC was could not become acting Prime Minister if Mosisili resigned. On the contrary, she argued, that the Leader of LCD would assume the leadership. It was also clear from the beginning that the Prime Minister would only be a ceremonial figure with Metsing, the LCD leader and Kamoli of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) as the de facto leaders in a civilian lead government where real power resided in the military. The mass detention of army officers; their torture; exile of the leaders of the political parties represented in parliament and some army officers confirmed to all that the new order would be civilian in name only.
    As a result of the limited support of the government, there were two possible scenarios. First was the cultivation of consensus politics as a way of ensuring that the government ruled by consent. The second scenario was to militarise the regime in order to inculcate fear amongst the people. This seems to have been the preferred route. The cold-blooded murder of Lt. General Mahao, former Commander of the LDF, was a way of demonstrating the brutality that the regime was prepared to go in to ensure its hold on power.
    The table below shows the numerical weakness in parliament of the political parties which formed the coalition government of 2015.

Political party Number of seats in parliament
Democratic Congress 47
Lesotho Congress for Democracy 12
Popular Front for Democracy 2
National Independence Party 1
Marematlou Freedom Party 1
Basutoland Congress Party 1
Lesotho Congress for Democracy 1
Total 65
Out of 120 seats, the coalition had 65 seats in parliament. The defection of only five members of parliament would thus bring down the coalition. More importantly the national and international outcry following the murder of Lt. General Mahao and the detention of over sixty soldiers ensured that the regime was unable to build national consensus. As a result of some of the above, two leading political parties in the coalition began to crack and finally split, leaving Mosisili’s coalition severely wounded and with insufficient numbers in parliament to rule. Instead of submitting to the reality in parliament, Mosisili and his partners began to devise strategies for avoiding the sitting of parliament where he faced a threat of vote of no confidence.
Towards the end of 2016 the coalition was thus severely rocked by the defection of Monyane Moleleki from the DC to the opposition side when he formed his party, Alliance of Democrats (AD) which claims to command the support of up to 24 members of parliament. Fourteen such MPs are those who won constituencies seats and are thus able to cross the flow when parliament reopens. The others are more likely to remain formally as members of DC but will vote with their party of choice when so required in parliament. This has brought about a lot of panic and desperation to those in power in Lesotho. Granted, the government side may rely on about four votes from disgruntled members of parliament from both the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Basotho National Party (BNP). The breakup of the LCD, with its Secretary General forming a new party does not change the make-up of parliament since the new party is expected to support the government in parliament. Mochoboroane, its leader, has a feud with the LCD leader, but otherwise supports the present regime.
The exodus through resignation of no less than eight ministers from the government was debilitating for Mosisili. The fact that three months down the line, those have not been replaced is indicative of the helplessness of the situation. Looking at the table above, it is clear that an attempt to fill those vacancies would leave the coalition in an even more perilous position where in a parliament with about 43 people in the government benches, 35 would be ministers. But of the remaining eight ministers, two were dismissed before the others resigned. A government where there is more than three times the number of ministers than backbenchers would be a very strange one. How would such government be able to operate? Who would be available for parliamentary committees? The long and short is that Mosisili’s government is so paralysed that it is unable to move any legislation in parliament. It for the same reason that the Minister of Finance, has now appropriated over half a billion Maloti through cabinet, rather than parliament. This desperate move will be found to be outside the law. In our law only parliament has the power of appropriation.
It is in this context that we have seen attempts to prolong a government which has lost not only its numerical majority in parliament, but also credibility. In an attempt to hold on to power, a number of desperate means have been attempted. These include intimidation; using procedural technicalities to ensure that parliament does not meet; and attempts to reduce the numbers of opposition members in parliament.
As the implosion of the regime intensifies, it has increasingly resorted to using force to ensure compliance. We have cases where police have been used to harass and arrest political activists for nothing. The strategy seems to be to arrest people on a hoof and then fail to charge them. In one such case, the person (Thuso Litjobo of DC) was arrested and shipped to some rural police station only to find that there was no case when it reached court. In another case police arrested a person (Machesetsa Mofomobe of BNP) only to find out later that the immediate superior of the arresting officer, claimed he had no clue about the arrest and could not locate the officer who had arrested the Machesetsa. Despite the High Court Order that Machesetsa be brought to court the following day, the police did not charge him. This is a case where the motive was more about harassment than about enforcing the law. They arrest to investigate and not to investigate before arresting a person.
The intensification of repression through the police and military has become more pronounced. The main organ being used now is the joint police and army unit which liberally disperses rallies and demonstrations by opposition members. It is the same unit that has been harassing people and arresting them without any identification that they are policemen. The interventionist role that the police have been used to play lately is worrying. The police deny permissions to protest and often use all measures to prevent such demonstrations.
Over and above the repression, at the political level, the main thrust of the government has been geared to keep the numbers of opposition members in parliament small through threats. For over a year three opposition leaders represented in parliament have been living in exile in South Africa. They were later joined by a few other members of parliament. In a new development most of the civilian exiles have now returned to the country and were met by thousands of people at the Maseru border post. The imminent return of the three leaders of the opposition to the country poses a major challenge to the strategy of keeping the numbers of opposition members down. That means that the opposition will now have an overwhelming number in parliament while the government numbers will have decreased considerably.
The government side has also been desperately trying to expel about thirteen members of parliament from parliament ostensibly on the ground that that they missed one third of the sittings of parliament in 2015. The funny thing here is that the Speaker has abrogated to herself the power to declare vacancies of alleged transgressions which took place in 2015. Why now? Since this action has been challenged and heard in the High Court, it is wise to refrain from discussing the merits of this until a ruling has been made. But the interesting thing during the hearing of this case is that the government’s South African lawyer’s pleaded that the court makes a ruling before the opening of parliament. The main issue here is a way of cutting down the numbers of members of parliament who are likely to vote for a motion of no confidence when parliament is reopened.
The desperation to survive the vote of no confidence is driving the government into all sorts of actions which include appropriating funds instead of submitting those to parliament. It is close to the end whatever strategies the government devises. In a democracy politicians must submit to the majority.

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