A PANEL of three High Court judges on Monday reserved judgment in the case in which the deputy leader of the Democratic Congress (DC), Mathibeli Mokhothu, is fighting to remain the official leader of opposition in the National Assembly.
The judgement was reserved to an unspecified date after lawyers representing Mr Mokhothu and the respondents presented their arguments on behalf of their clients.
National Assembly Speaker, Sephiri Motanyane, National Assembly Clerk, King’s Counsel Lebohang Fine Maema, Law Minister, Lebohang Hlaele, Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro and the Attorney-General are the respondents in this case.
The now exiled Mr Mokhothu, DC, National Independent Party (NIP) and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) filed an urgent application before the Constitutional Court on 21 November 2017, 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, while Mr Motanyane was making a ruling on a point of order raised by the Minister of Forestry, Motlohi Maliehe on 14 July 2014, on whether or not 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 did not qualify to be the official leader of opposition because he commanded less than 25 percent of seats in the National Assembly.
Addressing the court on Monday, Mr Mokhothu’s lawyer, King’s Counsel Motiea Teele, said Mr Motanyane’s ruling was not correct at law because Mr Mokhothu had already been approved as official leader of opposition on the first special sitting of parliament immediately after the 3 June, 2017 snap elections.
He said the law did not state what should happen when someone lost the 25 percent majority of seats in parliament after he had already been appointed to the seat of official leader of the opposition.
The position of official leader of opposition is equivalent to that of a deputy minister in that it comes with benefits that include an office and an official vehicle.
And on Monday, justices, Tšeliso Monaphathi, Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane and Sakoane Sakoane reserved judgment to a date that they said they would announce in due course.
In the meantime, Mr Mokhothu will continue enjoying his benefits as the official leader of the opposition until the judgment has been delivered.
In the court papers, the political parties DC, NIP and PFD wanted an interim relief to stop Mr Motanyane and other respondents from removing Mr Mokhothu from his position until the finalisation of the case.
Substantively, the court has to decide whether or not the speaker’s ruling should be deemed “unconstitutional, null and void and of no force or effect”.
Before a parliament 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 the official leader of the opposition, the parties also selected 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 had 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 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.