MASERU — The Basotho National Party (BNP) annual conference over the weekend was supposed to be Major General Metsing Lekhanya’s Waterloo.
It was here, at the three-day conference that started last Friday and ended on Sunday, that Lekhanya was supposed to meet his downfall.
His 11-year grip on the BNP was supposed to end with a vote of no confidence on Sunday.
And that is how on Sunday afternoon Lekhanya found himself the subject of a secret ballot meant to decide whether or not he remained leader of Lesotho’s first ruling party.
At least that is how his nemesis had planned it.
Results released on Sunday night at around 10pm showed that 156 of the 283 delegates at the conference wanted Lekhanya out.
123 still favoured him.
Four ballots were spoilt.
That was a clear victory, perhaps, but not according to the party constitution which says a vote of no confidence for the leader must be supported by 75 percent of the conference delegates.
So with the votes against him making up only 55 percent, Lekhanya escaped to fight another day.
He is sure to fight.
His problem, however, is that the second round of the fight might be coming too soon.
In fact it will be coming in the next 30 days, according to the BNP’s constitution, because last weekend’s conference did not end but was adjourned.
A second round therefore beckons for the former army major who staged a coup in 1986 and ruled for five years before he was also toppled.
The breather is likely to give his rivals, a faction of his former friends, another chance to push him out.
And they are confident that this time round they have him cornered.
“He will certainly go when the conference resumes,” says Moeketsi Hanyane, one of the key members of the faction that has been calling for Lekhanya’s ouster since late last year.
Hanyane’s faction is anchored by people who have been expelled from the party for either alleged “insubordination” or “bringing the party leadership into disrepute”.
They all say the charges were cooked up by Lekhanya to purge the party of potential threats to his clutch on power.
“The game has only just begun,” says Hanyane, who was expelled from the party after years as youth league leader.
“The weekend conference was just the first leg of a much bigger game.”
The faction’s game plan in the second round, Hanyane says, will involve the dissolution of the party’s executive committee which Lekhanya leads.
To do that, he says, they will resort to a “vote of no confidence” again.
Thereafter they will move a motion to suspend the 75 percent constitutional clause that saved Lekhanya in the first round.
“All this will be possible because we will only need a simple majority to kick him out,” says Seabata Thabisi, another key member of the anti-Lekhanya faction.
“Our success lies in managing to dissolve the whole committee as that will mean it would be incapacitated,” he says.
He says the new committee will be led by Professor Kopano Makoa, the man favoured by Hanyane’s faction to take over the leadership of the party.
Yet amidst all this Lekhanya is putting up a brave face.
He is scheming too.
The vote against him, Lekhanya says, “is a nonentity because those people voted against me illegitimately”.
He says most of the delegates that voted against him “do not feature in the party structures”.
“It is misleading to assume that I am losing ground with the BNP masses. What happened does not justify that at all.”
He is adamant, too, that the plan to dissolve the executive committee will not be easy.
“Amending the constitution is a long process that needs to be handled by people who are legitimate members of the BNP, which this faction is not,” Lekhanya adds.
But he admits that the plan is not entirely impossible to execute but “they (Hanyane’s faction) will need to fiercely canvass for support following the right channels and by garnering support in the grassroots.”
He says he will lobby the party grassroots to block efforts to oust him.
Lekhanya also accuses his rivals of being “thirsty for positions in the executive” and “clutching at straws” because they have failed to push him out.
He believes money and not his continued hold on power is what is driving Hanyane’s faction.
The fight against him, he adds, has intensified because the “issues surrounding the BNP Centre and the court cases around the issue are now drawing to a close”.
Rentals from the centre have been going to an agent who bailed out the party when it was on the verge of losing the building after defaulting on its mortgage payments to a local bank.
But the agent has now been fully paid and the rentals will come to the party directly, Lekhanya says.
“The building is bound to be a money spinner and they want to get their hands in the money jar.”
Hanyane’s faction dismisses these allegations as baseless saying Lekhanya is being “petty”.
How the warring factions will play their cards in the next four weeks will determine whether Lekhanya retains his position or not.
Already political manoeuvering and scheming has started ahead of the second round of the conference.
Insiders say the Hanyane faction is already cutting secret deals with Lekhanya’s close allies in the party to sway them.
The party’s secretary-general, Ranthomeng Matete, once regarded as Lekhanya’s right-hand man, is understood to have been promised the chairmanship of the party in the next executive committee if he dumps Lekhanya.
Sekhohola Molelle, the treasurer, has been told that he will keep his position in the next committee if he walks out on Lekhanya’s faction.
Similar deals, a source says, have been dangled to other committee members.
For his part Lekhanya is understood to be working on plans to deal with the hostile delegates he says are not in the party structures.
His problem however is that it will not be possible to change the delegates because they were accepted by the credentials’ committee last weekend.