‘Elections are the best option’
Basotho on saturday choose members of the 9th National assembly in one of the most-anticipated elections in the country’s history. the polls come two years early due to the collapse of the all Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) alliance, which gave rise to Lesotho’s first coalition government in June 2012. In this wide-ranging interview, speaker of the 8th Parliament, sephiri Motanyane (75), tells Lesotho Times ( LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane why Lesotho finds itself in this difficult position and what could be the best outcome of the polls.
LT: You presided over one of the most turbulent legislatures in Lesotho’s history, and the nation finds itself going for elections two years early due to the collapse of the ABC, LCD and BNP government. Could you walk us through the short journey of 8th National Assembly and how Lesotho ended up with a coalition government?
Motanyane: Lesotho’s constitution says there shall be a prime minister who will be appointed by the King acting on the advice of the Council of state. the constitution further notes the prime minister shall be a Member of Parliament (MP) leading a political party or coalition of political parties with the majority of members of the National assembly. and because no single party won the 26 May 2012 elections with an outright majority, the ABC, LCD and BNP came together to form the required majority in parliament.
the three parties then chose honourable Motsoahae thomas thabane to be the leader of the alliance, and he subsequently became the prime minister. MPS from certain smaller parties also came together to form what they called the Bloc and pledged support for the coalition government. the Bloc had nine seats in Parliament while the coalition had 61. this support increased the coalition MPS from 61 to 70 in the 120-seat National assembly. In terms of a motion for a vote-of-confidence, or no-confidence, it is allowed that you either support government from within or outside.
this means therefore, that the Bloc was supportive from outside because the MPS were actually not members of the coalition government. I always held a different view from people who maintained that the coalition was in government through a slim majority of 61 seats. these people seemed not to consider the other nine seats from the Bloc.
this is exactly why the coalition government did not collapse when two of its members (Mophato Monyake and thabiso Litšiba of the ABC) crossed the floor to form a new party (Progressive Democrats) and join the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC), respectively. It was because the coalition now had 68 seats, not 59 as many people thought, which was still more than the minimum 62 seats it required to remain in power.
LT: So how did the prime minister find himself in trouble when he had support from other parties and not just the BNP and Lcd—the latter which is blamed for the collapse of the government? Motanyane: Disagreements reements within alliance, in particularr between the prime minister and his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing (LCD leader). the LCD now wanted to partner rtner with the DC and that was a problem roblem due to our Mixed-member Proportionaloportional (MMP)( MMP) electoral model. the he system allows for representation of two types of MPS, namelymely winners of constituenciescies and those nominated byy parties though Proportional al Representation (PR). In this system, if MPS on the PR list cross the floor orr decide to leave their parties, es, they lose their parliamentary mentary seats. So it was difficult for the DC, which had 41 constituency and seven PR seats, to cross over to the LCD becauseuse the party would lose its seven PR seats.ats. again, it was hard for the LCD, which had 12 constituency andd 14 PR seats, because off the same reason. so as much as they wanted to form orm a partnership, the two parties could not because of the reasons I have just mentioned.
however, what could have worked in the plot to remove the prime minister was for the DC to cross-over to the LCD while it remained part of the government. and then MPS from the two parties would meet internally as a caucus to nominate a new prime minister. If they were constituting the majority in Parliament, the MPS would then inform me, as the speaker, through a letter, that they had nominated so-and-so as the new prime minister. If I was convinced of their majority, I would then inform the Council of state about this change. the Council of state was then going to advise the King to appoint a new prime minister nominated by the majority MPS. this process was going to be safer than the no-confidence route they decided to take early last year.
LT: The notice of a motion for the no-confidence vote the MPS wanted to pass on Dr Thabane was in March last year. But what happened to it?
Motanyane: such a move is bound to fail because if the prime minister becomes aware of it, he can then exercise his constitutional rights and prorogue parliament for a period not exceeding 12 months. the prime minister could also either resign or advise the King to dissolve Parliament, and call for elections. We saw it in the 8th Parliament where the prime minister ended up proroguing the house for nine months on 10 June (2014).
At the same time, the government filed a case against the motion before the courts. and because of the sub-judice rule, parliament could not discuss the motion pending the finalisation of the court processes, lest that amounted to influencing the outcome of the case. so that motion was never discussed in Parliament and not because the speaker blocked it, but simply because it was still pending before the courts.
LT: There was an alliance of MPS, mainly from the DC and LCD, claiming to be 72 in number. Their argument was they were enough to remove Dr Thabane as prime minister because they were now the majority in Parliament. What became of their plan?
Motanyane: I was never officially made aware of the existence of this alliance; I only heard of a meeting they held somewhere off Parliament’s premises. If things had been done according to the law, we should have seen the MPS crossing the floor in daylight in Parliament to form their alliance. We were now supposed to see them forming the majority in Parliament and nominating their own leader to be the prime minister. But to this day, I am not convinced this alliance had as many as 72 MPS as its leadership claimed. LT: If we could take you back a little… what thenthe happened after the no-confidence votevo on Dr Thabane could not go ahead?
Motanya Motanyane: things got tough. there was now obvio obvious tension in the house so various parties d decided to approach sadc (southern afri african Development Community) for interven intervention. I guess that was when my role as t the speaker of Parliament ended because s sadc subsequently took over, leading to t the current situation where we are going fo for elections on 28 February 2015.
LT: InI your opinion, are elections a solutionso to Lesotho’s current political and security challenges?
Motanyane: they are because Basotho can choose a new government once again. at the moment, we don’t have a cabinet that is supposed to make decisions for the betterment of the nation. In other words, there are no collective decisions being made for the good of the nation. Even sadc, as the facilitator, cannot reconcile our differences. It has to be us leading the way to a better Lesotho, so elections are the only way to resolve our problems.
LT: What do you think is the best outcome of the elections for a more stable Lesotho?
Motanyane: Chances are the elections will still produce a hung Parliament similar to what happened in 2012. so I can foresee parties coming together and forming a coalition government once again. the good thing though, is that our leaders have learnt how a coalition government operates. If the new leaders are organised, then the nation will follow suit. there is no magic about that. We don’t need another coalition which is not going to last its five-year term. We also need a coalition which is clear about its mandate from the people and not end its tenure prematurely. Elections are quite expensive, hence the next government should tread more carefully to ensure it does not collapse midterm.
LT: You have been in Parliament since 1965, and you hold the record of having been a member of our National Assembly the longest. Do you foresee yourself back as Speaker in the next Parliament?
Motanyane: I cannot really say what the future holds for me.
LT: Which political party do you belong to?
Motanyane: I am a life-member of the LCD. I joined the party a long time ago because I believe in its policies. But as you can remember, I declared that I was no longer active in politics when I was nominated speaker for the 8th Parliament. the position requires one to be neutral so as we speak, I am still not active in politics.
I can foresee parties coming together and forming a coalition government once again. The good thing though, is that our leaders have learnt how a coalition government operates. If the new leaders are organised, then the nation will follow suit.
Speaker of 8th parliament Sephiri Motanyane.