Lesotho Prime Minister to retire in South African-brokered deal

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Lesotho’s beleaguered Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is set to retire anytime from next week, the South African government’s special envoy to Lesotho, Jeff Radebe has said.

Mr Radebe has been South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s point man in negotiating an exit deal for the 80-year-old Thabane whose popularity has taken a severe knock almost three years after he came to power in a June 2017 election.

Thabane has previously said he will retire by 31 July 2020 but his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party and two of his three coalition partners (the Basotho National Party-BNP and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho-RCL) want him gone without further delay.

The ABC has even agreed a deal with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) to form a new government which excludes Thabane. The deal is supported by the BNP, RCL and the opposition Popular Front for Democracy. The parties’ legislators have also passed a bill to amend the constitution to stop Thabane from clinging to power by dissolving parliament and calling for fresh elections in the event of him losing a no confidence vote.

After the passage of the constitutional amendment bill on Wednesday 29 April, ABC spokesperson told the local media that they would give Thabane up to Saturday 2 May to step down or face an embarrassing no confidence vote in parliament. Besides, clipping his powers, the bill also provides for a prime minister’s retirement and the election of his successor. This is not provided for in the current constitution.

It was against this background that President Ramaphosa dispatched Radebe to Lesotho for the second time in as many weeks to ramp up the pressure on Thabane to go.

Speaking on Saturday after meeting Thabane, political parties and security chiefs, Radebe indicated that it was a matter of time before Thabane announced an earlier date for his departure.

Radebe said Mr Thabane’s departure now hinged on when Lesotho’s head of state, King Letsie III, signs the constitutional amendment bill into law.

“A statement will be issued by the prime minister… The real timeline (for Thabane’s exit) is dependent on when the Attorney General and the Speaker of the National Assembly transmit the information and the document (bill) for the attention of His Majesty the King which we expect to happen any minute from now

“As soon as His Majesty has assented to this Bill, there will be a statement issued to this effect and the Prime Minister will indicate his intention to leave the office,” Radebe told the local media.

He said he had briefed Mr Thabane about his meetings with different stakeholders There was consensus that the processes leading to the signing of the constitutional amendment bill into law be expedited, he said.

Asked why he had come back so soon after his last visit on 19-20 April, Radebe said it was important to do so since he did not have the opportunity to meet Lesotho’s security chiefs the last time. He said it was crucial to meet them this time especially in view of what he said was the deteriorating security situation in the tiny enclave that is completely surrounded by South Africa.

“It was important that we came back because the last time when we were here, we couldn’t meet the security chiefs so that we can hear for ourselves what their perspectives are given the deteriorating security situation in Lesotho,” Radebe said. He did not give details. However, there have been reports of tensions between the army and police after Thabane allegedly ordered the army bosses to arrest Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli and other senior police officers.

Thabane has tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to fire the top cop this year. This after Molibeli named him as a suspect in the murder of his then estranged wife, Lipolelo, on 14 June 2017. Thabane’s current wife, ‘Maesaiah has already been charged with murder and is out on bail. Thabane could soon join her in the dock if he loses his pending Constitutional Court application to stop the courts from trying him for the murder while he remains in office.

Meanwhile, ABC Secretary General Lebohang Hlaele says the passage of the constitutional amendment bill is a welcome development which will hasten Thabane’s departure. Hlaele, a son-in-law to Thabane, said the prime minister has made it clear that he is tired and wants to go but could not do so because the constitution did not provide for his retirement.

“Now that the amendment has been successfully passed, we hope that he won’t find any other reason to delay his departure,” Hlaele said on Saturday.

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