Lesotho has been plunged into a constitutional crisis after the heads of security agencies vowed not to allow Prime Minister Sam Matekane to be toppled in a parliamentary no confidence vote.
Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service (NSS) Director General Pheello Ralenkoane issued a joint statement Monday evening vowing to foil any change of the current government.
They echoed Prime Minister Matekane’s charge earlier in the day that MPs bent on removing his government from power were motivated by selfish interests. The statement by the heads of the security agencies was being interpreted as an effective coup detat against the envisaged new government of Democratic Congress leader Mathibeli Mokhothu, who was set to be sworn in to replace Mr Matekane as premier if the no confidence motion had gone ahead yesterday.
About 64 MPs, enough to topple a government in Lesotho’s 120 member chamber, had earlier gathered at a press conference in Parliament in a show of force to prove they were an adequate number to topple Mr Matekane. The MPs included rebels from Mr Matekane’s own Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) unhappy with how the party is being run. The MPs had stood guard at parliament waiting for the opening of Monday’s session at 2:30 pm to debate and pass the motion. They had said they would not take any chances by moving away from the parliament building before the no confidence motion had been passed, lest some of them get arrested to reduce their number.
But things took an unexpected turn when Speaker of Parliament. Tlohang Sekhamanre, announced he was deferring the motion after a court challenge was suddenly filed by RFP MP, Lejone Puseletso, challenging its constitutionality. Mr Puseletso has also asked the Constitutional Court to put on hold any no confidence motions against the Prime Minister until after the completion of the much delayed national reforms process expected to outline new circumstances in which a government may be toppled, among other things.
The Speaker had said he had no alternative but to defer the no confidence motion which had been filed by the Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, on Friday, pending the hearing of the constitutional challenge end of this month.
Still, the heads of the military agencies have vowed in a joint statement Monday evening they will not allow Mr Matekane to be toppled. Mr Mofomobe had accused the army of deploying around Maseru on Sunday to intimidate MPs.
The security agencies’ statement was read by Commissioner Molibeli who was flanked by Lt-Gen Letsoela on his right and Mr Ralenkoane on the left.
“As the heads of the national security agencies, we are mandated by the Constitution to uphold and maintain national security,” Commissioner Molibeli said.
“It has come to our attention that there are people who want to disturb the peace by destabilising the nation for their own personal gain. This can fuel riots which can affect lives and property. We declare that Lesotho will never go back there.
“We will work with the lawfully elected government and the nation at large to protect the image of this country and maintain the confidence of investors.
The police boss also said Basotho had stated very clearly in the ongoing reforms process that they wanted democratic rule, and not rule by parliamentarians who were interested in their “own personal gains”.
“The people have ordered that the Constitution be amended. We will protect this word and order of the nation. They have said that overthrowing each other in parliament was not for the benefit of the country, and therefore called for those provisions of the Constitution to be revised.
“We therefore notify you that those actions of change of government will never happen. What will take place is the continuation of the national reforms process. We thank the nation for your patience in these trying times where you are taken for granted by these people you have sent to serve your interests.
Mr Matekane had addressed the nation Monday morning, lamenting the attempts to overthrow his government by MPs whom he accused of being driven by their personal interests for power. It appeared he had already read that the numbers were jot in his favour. He was countered by Mr Mokhothu, who had been nominated in the motion to replace him. Mr Mokhothu said it was the constitutional right of MPs to table and pass no confidence motions.
Mr Matekane has been under fire from opposition MPs who accuse him of a litany of transgressions including “incompetence, nepotism, corruption” and failure to fulfill his electoral promises. They were particularly angered that he proceeded with the water and hydrogen expo at the weekend despite it having been flagged by the Attorney-General. They claimed the whole expo was meant to benefit Mr Matekane’s “friend” South African businessman Mashudu Ramano, whose entity convened it. Mr Matekane on the other hand said the expo was meant to discuss ways of harnessing Lesotho’s abundant water resources to produce clean energy for export into the SADC power pool.