. . . party in desperate bid to retain official opposition status
THE Democratic Congress (DC) is determined to retain its position as the official opposition in the National Assembly “at all costs”, including having Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing defect to the party to ensure it has the requisite 30 seats.
This is according DC spokesperson Serialong Qoo, who told the Lesotho Times yesterday that the party was also prepared to take its Semena constituency legislator, Tlohelang Aumane, to court if he were to follow through on his expected defection to the Alliance of Democrats (AD).
Parliament is expected to reopen between 10 and 11 July 2017 following the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections.
The polls resulted in a hung parliament with the All Basotho Convention (ABC), AD, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho cobbling up the 63 seats they garnered to form government.
For its part, the former seven-party government could only muster a combined 47 seats, which were 14 short of the 61-seat threshold to form government.
Apart from the DC and the LCD, the former governing parties included the Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party, Lesotho People’s Congress and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).
The DC won 30 seats in the elections, which were the least amount of seats required to become the official opposition party in the august house. DC deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, and has already notified National Assembly Speaker Sephiri Motanyane in writing that he would be the official leader of the opposition in the august house.
This is in line with 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 the leader of the political party or coalition of political parties who commands the majority in the opposition and his party or coalition has at least 25 percent of the total membership of the National Assembly.”
However, Mr Aumane fuelled speculation he intended to defect to the AD with his appointment as Development Planning minister last Friday along with 26 other ministers and their deputies.
Mr Aumane has, however, remained coy about his intentions after the minister had to run for cover to his car from DC supporters who were livid over his rumoured defection during a constituency meeting in Semena last Saturday.
A video of the incident, which is circulating on social media, shows an angry mob hurling expletives at the legislator after he ran for cover in his vehicle.
Mr Aumane’s vehicle had to be driven into the fields after the road was blocked by a vehicle ferrying DC supporters holding canes and stones.
The DC supporters accused the legislator of “stealing” the party’s votes, arguing that he would not have won the same number of votes had he contested the elections on an AD ticket.
Mr Aumane garnered 3 250 votes in the elections, with the closest challenger being an ABC candidate with 1 606 votes, while the AD candidate had 212 votes.
The legislator’s expected defection would reduce the DC’s seats in parliament to 29 — one short of the 30-seat threshold for the official opposition status in the 120-seat National Assembly.
The DC has responded to Mr Aumane’s appointment as a minister with an insistence that he remained a member of the party.
Mr Qoo said the legislator could only sever ties with the DC by crossing the floor in the National Assembly from the opposition side to the government side.
“The DC still has enough seats to retain the status of official opposition in parliament, with the official leader of the opposition being our deputy leader Ntate Mathibeli Mokhothu” he said.
“In as much as Aumane thinks he has defected to the AD, we still consider him as one of our own because he has to cross the floor in the house and not just say it.”
Mr Qoo also asserted that Mr Aumane could not cross the floor by virtue of having been appointed a minister.
“He has forfeited the right to cross the floor because he was appointed as a cabinet minister.
“The expectation is for him to sit on the government side, since he is now a minister, which means that he cannot cross the floor from the opposition side.”
However, a senior National Assembly source who requested anonymity for professional reasons, said Mr Aumane could defect to the AD even before the opening of parliament by merely notifying the National Assembly speaker.
As of last night it was not clear if Mr Aumane had notified Mr Motanyane.
The DC spokesperson said if Mr Motanyane were to recognise Mr Aumane’s floor crossing, they would take the legislator to court.
“In the event the speaker of the National Assembly accepted Aumane’s move, we would run straight to the courts of law to get an order nullifying the floor crossing.”
Mr Qoo said if all else were to fail, they would ask Mr Metsing and PFD deputy leader Thabang Kholumo to shore up the DC in parliament by defecting to the party.
“If we were to lose the court battle, we would not hesitate to incorporate the leader of the LCD, Ntate Metsing, and Ntate Kholumo since we forged an electoral pact ahead of the 3 June 2017 elections,” he said.
“We would just take them into our fold. By incorporating those two MPs, we would be in a comfortable position in the National Assembly as far as being the official opposition is concerned.”
Under their electoral pact, the DC, LCD and PFD fielded one candidate for each of the country’s 80 constituencies with the stated goal of avoiding vote splitting.
The DC contested in 54 constituencies, the LCD was allocated 25, while the PFD was given one seat.
The LCD managed to garner 11 seats in the polls, while the PFD had three.
Efforts to contact Mr Metsing were fruitless last night, as his phone rang unanswered.
However, LCD spokesperson Teboho Sekata told this publication last night that the constitution did not allow Mr Aumane to cross the floor since he was already a minister.
“We won’t even need to get to that stage (of Mr Metsing defecting to the DC) because section 87 of the constitution, which deals with ministers, does not have a provision dealing with crossing the floor,” he said.
For his part, Mr Kholumo said he was open to the idea of defecting to the DC to shore up the party.
“We are very ready to work with the DC, LCD and the other parties which were part of the previous coalition government on all issues,” he said.
“So, if there is a need to make up the numbers required for the DC to be the official opposition, I am prepared.”
Contacted for comment, Mr Aumane would not be drawn to disclose whether he had already notified the National Assembly speaker of his defection or if he intended to cross the floor in parliament.
However, he expressed surprise at Mr Qoo’s assertion that he remained a member of the DC.
“It defies all logic that the DC still regards me as a member of the party since they are threatening me in so many ways,” Mr Aumane said. “However, I never said I left the DC. I just accepted the ministerial appointment. I have not even said I would be crossing the floor in parliament, but they are so much on my case. I would only advise them to wait for the re-opening of parliament.”