THE Democratic Congress (DC) and two other opposition parties have made good on their vow to challenge in court National Assembly Speaker Sephiri Motanyane’s decision to thwart their bid to be regarded as the official opposition in the august house.
The DC, National Independent Party (NIP) and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) had expressed their intention to take the legal route if Mr Motanyane did not “reconsider his ruling”.
And on Monday, the parties filed an urgent constitutional case challenging the decision of the speaker. The other respondents in the case are 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 an interim relief, the parties want Mr Motanyane and other respondents to be stopped from removing exiled DC deputy leader and Qhoali constituency legislator, Mathibeli Mokhothu, from being the official leader of the opposition until the finalisation of the case.
The position is equal to that of a deputy minister, which includes an office and an official vehicle among other benefits.
In the final relief, the parties want the decision to render Mr Mokhothu ineligible for the post deemed “unconstitutional, null and void and of no force or effect”.
They also want the decision to be deemed “irrational, based on irrelevant considerations, and of no force or effect”.
Parliament reopened earlier this month after a winter adjournment on 7 August this year. Before the break, 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 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, Semena constituency MP Tlohelang Aumane, defected to the Alliance of Democrats (AD) soon after the 3 June 2017 snap general elections. Mr Aumane has since been appointed as Development Planning minister.
With 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.
However, All Basotho Convention (ABC) chairperson and Butha-Buthe #5 constituency legislator, Motlohi Maliehe, had on 14 July 2017 raised a point of order asking the implications of the DC’s failure to notch the requisite 30 seats.
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 is 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 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.”
The implication of the aforementioned 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 3 June snap polls.
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.
The court will deal with the interim reliefs sought on Tuesday next week.
The interim reliefs will also include whether the case should be treated on urgent basis or not.