THE Constitutional Court will convene on Monday 15 January, to hear a case in which the deputy leader of the Democratic Congress (DC), Mathibeli Mokhothu is fighting to keep benefits as official leader of opposition in the National Assembly.
The self-exiled Mr Mokhothu continues to enjoy benefits of official leader of opposition after a panel of three High Court judges in November last year granted him temporary relief after the National Assembly Speaker Sephiri Motanyane called for the suspension of his benefits.
His position is equal to that of a deputy minister, which comes with benefits including an office and an official vehicle.
Mr Mokhothu, DC, National Independent Party (NIP) and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) filed an urgent application before the Constitutional Court on 21 November, challenging the National Assembly Speaker’s ruling that he no longer qualified as the official leader of the opposition.
This pronouncement was made on 3 November 2017, during Mr Motanyane’s ruling on a point of order raised by the Minister of Forestry, Motlohi Maliehe, on 14 July 2014 on whether Mr Mokhothu still qualified to be leader of the opposition after the Member of Parliament for Semena Constituency, Tlohelang Aumane, had just crossed the floor from the Democratic Congress (DC) to the Alliance of Democrats (AD).
Mr Motanyane ruled that Mr Mokhothu no longer qualified because he commanded less than 25 percent of seats in the August House.
However, in November Justices Tšeliso Monaphathi, Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane and Sakoane Sakoane decided that the exiled DC deputy leader should continue enjoying the benefits until the finalization of the case.
The respondents are Mr Motanyane, National Assembly Clerk, King’s Counsel Lebohang Fine Maema, Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Lebohang Hlaele, Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro and the Attorney-General.
As the situation stands, the court has to deal with the substantive reliefs sought by the applicants who in the final relief want the decision to render Mr Mokhothu ineligible for the post deemed “unconstitutional, null and void and of no force or effect”.
Before the parliament’s winter break last year, the DC, NIP and PFD had written to Mr Motanyane expressing their intention to form a coalition in the National Assembly.
In addition to nominating Mr Mokhothu as official leader of the opposition, the parties also picked PFD deputy leader, Thabang Kholumo, as the opposition chief whip, DC legislator for Qalabane constituency, Motlalentoa Letsosa as chair of the opposition caucus while DC legislator for Senqu, Likeleli Tampane, was nominated as secretary.
The DC needed to join forces with the two parties after one of its legislators for Semena Constituency, MP Tlohelang Aumane, defected to the Alliance of Democrats (AD) soon after the 3 June 2017 snap elections. Mr Aumane has since been appointed as Minister of Development Planning.
Following Mr Aumane’s defection, the DC was left with 29 seats; one short of the 30-seat threshold to retain the status of official opposition in the 120-seat National Assembly.
Earlier on, Mr Motanyane had reserved ruling on the matter in light of the 30 September by-elections in Hololo, Teyateyaneng and Thupa-Kubu constituencies, which were all won by the ABC.
Mr Motanyane cited Section 95 (1) (h) of the Constitution of Lesotho, which provides for the appointment of two MPs to the Council of State by the Speaker.
“The pertinent issue here in making this appointment, the speaker shall appoint the leader of opposition party or coalition of parties having the next greatest numerical strength.”
He also cited Section 3 of the Members of Parliament Salaries Act of 1998 which states that: “Leader of the Opposition means a member of the National Assembly who is a leader of the political party or coalition of political parties and commands the majority in the opposition and his party or coalition with at least 25 percent of the total membership of the National Assembly.”
The implication of the above-mentioned clauses, Mr Motanyane said, was that an MP would qualify as an official leader of the opposition if he/she leads a political party commanding a majority in the opposition.
The legislator would also qualify if his/her coalition of parties has at least 25 percent of the total membership of the National Assembly.
He indicated that the first opposition coalition in parliament was attempted in 2007 by the ABC, Lesotho Workers Party (LWP), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) and Basotho National Party (BNP).
However, it failed to take off because then National Assembly Speaker, Ntlhoi Motsamai, ruled that there was no legal body called coalition of political parties.
Ms Motsamai also stated that the collaboration of the parties on their own could not bring into existence a legal body known as coalition of political parties.
The second coalition was established between the ABC, LCD and BNP after the May 2012 general elections. The third was between the DC, LCD, NIP, PFD, MFP, BCP and LPC in March 2015 while the fourth is the governing coalition consisting of the ABC, AD, BNP and Reformed Congress of Lesotho installed after the June elections.
Mr Motanyane said the distinguishing factor between the coalition governments with the one proposed by the opposition was that they had been formed before the legislators were sworn into parliament.
It was imperative, he said, to establish coalitions before legislators have taken their seats in parliament to avoid disturbing the allocation of portfolio committees which reflect proportionality in parliament and diversity of political parties as well as gender balance in the August House.