Lesotho security forces threaten a de facto military coup to save Prime Minister Sam Matekane
Lesotho’s army, police and intelligence chiefs have in effect threatened a military coup, warning they will step in to prevent Prime Minister Sam Matekane from being toppled in a parliamentary no-confidence vote.
As Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s ouster seemed imminent on Monday, the security bosses issued a statement saying this “will never happen”.
About 64 MPs, enough to topple the government in Lesotho’s 120-member chamber, had earlier on Monday called a press conference in Parliament to demonstrate they had the numbers to oust Matekane.
The MPs included disgruntled dissidents from Matekane’s own Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) unhappy with how the party is being run.
A successful businessman, Matekane won a landslide victory in elections a year ago, and vowed to root out corruption and incompetence in Lesotho’s notoriously corrupt and inept political system. But he has battled to change a deeply ingrained system, and now he himself has been accused of corruption and nepotism. However, Lesotho observers also believe he has just become the latest victim of Lesotho’s opportunistic and unprincipled political system, where MPs constantly shift allegiance for personal gain.
The estimated 64 MPs headed by opposition Democratic Congress leader Mathibeli Mokhothu were ready on Monday to vote on a no-confidence motion filed by the Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Machesetsa Mofomobe on Friday and to swear in Mokhothu as new Prime Minister on Monday afternoon.
But they were at least temporarily frustrated when Speaker of Parliament Tlohang Sekhamane announced he was deferring the no-confidence motion until the outcome of a Constitutional Court challenge to it by Lejone Puseletso, an MP of Matekane’s governing RFP.
Puseletso asked the Constitutional Court to put on hold any no-confidence motions against the Prime Minister until after the completion of the much-delayed national reforms process, which is expected to restrict the circumstances in which a government may be toppled. The idea of such reforms is precisely to stabilise Lesotho’s unstable politics in which several prime ministers have been voted out by shifting coalitions.
Lesotho experts do not expect Puseletso’s court challenge to succeed as they say toppling a government through a vote of no confidence is perfectly legal in the Westminster parliamentary system which now prevails, regardless of what changes the reform process might bring.
And Lesotho’s top brass also appears to have no faith in the courts saving Matekane’s government as they have now intervened to try to do so themselves.
Lesotho Mounted Police Service Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, Lesotho Defence Force Commander Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service Director General Pheello Ralenkoane made this clear in a joint statement which they read at a press conference on Monday evening.
They echoed Matekane’s accusation earlier in the day that MPs bent on removing his government from power were motivated by selfish interests.
“The statement by the heads of the security agencies was being interpreted as an effective coup d’état against the envisaged new government of Democratic Congress leader Mathibeli Mokhothu, who was set to be sworn in to replace Mr Matekane as premier if the no-confidence motion had gone ahead yesterday,” the influential Lesotho Times reported.
The security agencies’ statement was read by Commissioner Molibeli, flanked by Lieutenant General Letsoela and Ralenkoane.
“As the heads of the national security agencies, we are mandated by the Constitution to uphold and maintain national security,” Molibeli said.
“It has come to our attention that there are people who want to disturb the peace by destabilising the nation for their own personal gain. This can fuel riots which can affect lives and property. We declare that Lesotho will never go back there.
“We will work with the lawfully elected government and the nation at large to protect the image of this country and maintain the confidence of investors.
He added that the Basotho people had stated very clearly in the ongoing reforms process that they wanted democratic rule, and not rule by parliamentarians who were interested in their “own personal gains”.
“The people have ordered that the Constitution be amended. We will protect this word and order of the nation. They have said that overthrowing each other in Parliament was not for the benefit of the country, and therefore called for those provisions of the Constitution to be revised.
“We, therefore, notify you that those actions of change of government will never happen. What will take place is the continuation of the national reforms process. We thank the nation for your patience in these trying times where you are taken for granted by these people you have sent to serve your interests. DM