THE newly-appointed deputy leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Maliehe Prince Maliehe, says he was a compromise choice for the position to prevent potential instability in the ruling party which could arise from intense jostling for the post.
Mr Maliehe said this in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times this week.
His remarks follow reports that factions had emerged in the party with some followers baiting for Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, while others wanted prominent academic and NUL vice chancellor, Professor Nqosa Mahao, to be invited to assume the post seen as a critical stepping stone for succeeding party leader Thomas Thabane when he eventually bows out.
According to party sources, heavy lobbying had taken root in the party with rival factions holding surreptitious meetings to lay the groundwork of canvassing for their preferred candidates to be appointed to the top post.
Mr Maliehe, the legislator for the Teyateyaneng constituency, told this publication that ABC leader and Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, and the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) settled on him as “unifying figure” after realising that jockeying for the post had the potential to create instability in the party.
An ABC circular dated 29 January 2018 announced Mr Maliehe as the ABC’s interim deputy leader from January 2018 until the party’s elective conference scheduled for early next year.
The deputy leader’s position became vacant after the former deputy leader, Tlali Khasu, left the ABC in the wake of his 17 September 2016 suspension from the party for allegedly castigating Dr Thabane during a radio programme.
Mr Khasu’s spirited attempts to challenge the suspension in the courts proved futile as the High Court upheld the decision.
Mr Khasu subsequently formed the Truth Reconciliation Unity (TRU) party which fared dismally in the June 3 elections, failing to garner votes enough for even a single proportional representation seat.
Mr Maliehe alluded to the existence of factionalism emerging in the ABC over the deputy leader’s post telling this publication that, “I am aware of groups of ABC members who have been holding secret meetings but because I never took part in the meetings, I am not in a position to say what they discussed”.
“I can only assume that they might have discussed the much anticipated elective conference of 2019.
“The party leader, Dr Thabane, proposed my name to the NEC during its meeting two weeks ago. No name was brought up to oppose the leader’s proposal and the NEC approved his submission,” he said.
He said believed he was appointed because he was a “senior member who could act as a unifying figure to save the party from going through unnecessary instability”.
He said it was common for political parties to experience infighting which sometimes caused splits, adding the decision to appoint him was therefore a “smart move to spare the ABC from infighting when party’s elective conference is held in a year’s time”.
“I have previously served in the NEC as treasurer-general and I am a legislator. Therefore, I could not refuse the appointment because I know that the ABC needed to fill up that position.”
Asked if his appointment was an indication that the party was grooming him to take over from Dr Thabane when he eventually decided to retire from active politics, Mr Maliehe maintained that his appointment was “purely about filling up a vacancy that had been there in the party for a long time”.
“I think we should not be impatient and speculate on the reasons behind my appointment. I am just an interim deputy leader to facilitate the smooth and efficient running of the ABC in preparation for the 2019 elective conference. Let us all wait for the elections and let the masses decide.”
Asked why his appointment did not follow the norm of elections, Mr Maliehe, said the ABC constitution empowers the NEC to appoint a deputy leader.
“I do not have a copy of the party’s constitution right now but there is a clause that gives the party leader and the NEC the power to make appointments in the governing body.”
On why it had taken more than a year to make the appointment, Mr Maliehe said the delay was necessitated by the fact that the party had to focus its energies on organising for the 3 June 2017 snap elections which it won but without the majority needed to form government on its own.
He said after winning the elections, the ABC was immediately seized with negotiating a coalition with the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (ABC) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
“Government business could not be put on hold because there was a vacancy for the deputy leader in my party. The appointment which has finally been made was done at the convenient and right time,” he added.
Mr Maliehe also shot down speculation that his appointment was also done with a view to pacifying restive ABC legislators from the Berea district who were reportedly miffed by the fact that only one of their number was appointed to a ministerial position last June.
This was despite the fact that the district had given the ABC its second biggest area electoral win with nine seats out of the 11 contested in last year’s national polls.
The ABC won the most seats in Maseru with 15 seats out of the 18 contested in the district. The ABC garnered a total of 48 seats, while the AD won nine, BNP five and RCL one.
ABC legislator for Khafung #23 constituency in Berea constituency, Habofanoe Lehana, was subsequently appointed Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs minister- a development which reportedly riled the legislators in the constituency who felt they deserved more appointments for their success and loyalty to the party.
The other Berea legislators are Fako Moshoeshoe (Mabote), Litšoane Litšoane (Bela-Bela), Likopo Mahase (Khubetsoana), Mohlajoa (Malimong), Motlatsi Maqelepo (Berea), Hlomelang Lefu (Makhoarane), Samuel Rapapa (Mosalemane) and Tšoeu Molise (Tšoana-Makhulo).
The discontent was laid bare by an audio clip that circulated on social media networks after the elections in which an unidentified woman – claiming to be a member of the ABC’s Berea election committee – claimed party supporters in the district had convened a meeting with their legislators to voice their concerns at the lack of more ministerial appointments.
“We discussed the fact that our legislators were not appointed to more ministerial positions and we made a decision to defect to the Democratic Congress,” the woman says in the clip.
“We need to make Ntate Tom (Thabane) see that we are not fools. It’s unfair that he did not reward our loyalty and decision to stick with the party through thick and thin.”
However, Mr Maliehe said the claims that his appointment had something to do with alleged discontentment of Berea MPs “was baseless”.