MASERU — National Independent Party (NIP) acting president Serame Khampepe was ousted in a boardroom coup on Sunday as a fierce power struggle within the party plunged to new depths.
Party chairman Kimetso Mathaba (MP) was appointed caretaker president until fresh elections are held.
Khampepe was expelled from the NIP’s national executive committee at an urgent national executive committee meeting held in Maputsoe constituency on Sunday.
The decision to kick him out was reached after he allegedly stormed out of the meeting in objection to a move to pass a vote of no confidence in him.
The no-confidence vote formed part of the meeting’s agenda.
Khampepe’s ouster could further weaken the NIP, a small ally of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party.
The party has 21 MPs in the 120-member parliament.
Political observers say the decision to oust Khampepe could be linked to the factional fights within the LCD.
Khampepe has been acting NIP president since April 2009.
He replaced Dominique Motikoe who was shot dead in April 2009 after he was accused of having an extra-marital relationship with a married woman.
Observers said Khampepe’s ouster could however be illegal as it was done without the party’s national executive committee calling a general conference.
Under the party’s constitution committee members can only be elected and removed at a general conference.
Khampepe’s expulsion happened only a month after members of his faction, led by one of the party’s MPs, Thapelo Mokone, marched to a private house used as the NIP office where they petitioned the national executive committee to remove the secretary general Letuka Nkole.
The faction accused Nkole of refusing to renew membership of some party members, who included Mokone.
It also wanted the national executive committee to hold a general conference to elect a new leadership.
But the national executive committee retaliated by sacking Khampepe last Sunday accusing him of tyranny.
Addressing a press conference in Maseru on Monday, Nkole said Khampepe was a tyrant who did not listen to anyone in the executive committee.
“He (Khampepe) would not accommodate other people’s opinions and he used to make big decisions for the party without having regard to the views of the executive committee,” Nkole said.
“His leadership style was in direct clash with the NIP’s way of doing things and therefore we, as the national executive committee, decided to remove him,” he said.
Nkole said Khampepe tried to push him to sanction a party member to represent it in the Independent Electoral Commission’s monitoring committee without the knowledge of the executive committee.
“He phoned me and asked if I had a party stamp with me and when I said yes he asked me to go where he was,” Nkole said.
“Upon arrival he ordered me to stamp a letter that would sanction one member of the party to be our representative in the IEC’s monitoring committee. I refused and told him that that decision had not been made by the executive committee,” he said.
“Take note that we have not suspended him but we have totally expelled him from the national executive committee.”
Nkole would however not cite specific clauses in the NIP constitution that gave the national executive committee powers to expel its own members without taking directions from the general conference.
“I will not go into those details lest I touch on critical points of our defence. I think Mr Khampepe will take us to court,” he said.
Nkole said Khampepe did not understand the NIP constitution well because he was a newcomer in the party hence his questionable behaviour.
He said Khampepe was asked to join the party and register as its candidate in the Qalo constituency by-elections in 2005 and two years later he was elected deputy leader.
“Khampepe is still learning how the NIP operates,” Nkole said.
Nkole however refuted allegations that the national executive committee axed Khampepe because the majority of its members were afraid that he would not include them in the proportional representation list ahead of the 2012 parliamentary elections.
He also denied that the split within the NIP was influenced by the power struggles within the LCD.
Eleven out of the 21 NIP proportional representation legislators are LCD members.
Significantly, the rift in NIP is fashioning itself along the cracks affecting Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s LCD, which has been in power since 1997.
Sources within the party say NIP factions are identifying themselves with the camps that have emerged in the LCD.
Aping its big brother-figure, the NIP has been split into two rival factions that are backing the two rival factions in the LCD.
The LCD is split into two factions — dubbed Lija-mollo and Litima-mollo. The two factions are allegedly led by Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki.
However, Metsing and Moleleki have in the past denied leading any factions.
The problems within the NIP have been simmering ever since factionalism surfaced within the LCD two years ago.
Matters came to a head in March when disgruntled members marched in protest calling for Nkole’s removal.
Both Khampepe and Nkole have denied that the LCD factionalism has spilled over to the NIP.
The Khampepe-led faction says Nkole and his cohorts had no right to expel him from the national executive committee because their meeting did not make a two-thirds majority as required by the amended NIP constitution.
The NIP deputy general secretary Ntja Thoola told a press conference last night that out of 10 members of the national executive committee only six decided to boot Khampepe out.
“They were supposed to be at least seven to reach that decision,” Thoola said.
Thoola also said Khampepe was punished because he called for the holding of the general elective conference in agreement with the demands of 20 constituencies that marched to the party offices in March.
“We are a democratic party that follows a republican type of democracy and it defies logic that we do not want the people to choose their leader,” Thoola said.
A defiant Khampepe told the press conference last night that the NIP would hold the elective conference on May 28.
“I lawfully announce the date for the holding of the conference and anybody disputing (this) should do so lawfully,” Khampepe said.
“I still am a member of the NIP national executive committee and acting as leader following the death of Dominique Motikoe,” he said.