Prime Minister Thomas Thabane of Lesotho formally tendered his resignation on May 19 after months of a growing political crisis in the small land-locked kingdom since January, when he and his wife were implicated in murder. He has clung to power, but has been under mounting pressure in recent weeks to resign.
He was questioned and remains a suspect in the murder.
At the heart of the crisis is the murder of Thabane’s estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane, on June 14, 2017, just two days before his inauguration as prime minister. His current wife, Maesaiah Thabane, was charged with involvement in the murder in February. He was questioned and remains a suspect, but he has not been charged and denies that he was involved.
The coalition government of Thabane’s party, the All Basotho Convention, and three other parties was dissolved last week, forcing his hand to resign.
This morning, May 20, King Letsie III swore in finance minister Moeketsi Majoro as acting prime minister. A new parliament is expected to be formed by Friday, May 22.
Lesotho’s ruling coalition government has collapsed after three of the four parties that comprised the coalition, including Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), notified the speaker of the national assembly that they would be withdrawing. The speaker, Sephiri Motanyane, accepted the dissolution of the government and adjourned the parliament until May 22, in order to give time for a new coalition government to organize itself.
Thabane had fully intended to hang on to power until the end of July.
The ABC and the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) will form the new coalition, but this agreement also has the support of at least eight other small parties. This decision by Lesotho’s political parties finally puts to bed a political crisis that erupted after Thabane was implicated in the murder of his estranged second wife, which occurred the night before his inauguration in 2017. The Lesothan political apparatus, including Thabane’s own party, had been demanding he step down for months after he suspended the police commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, in January after the commissioner had linked him to the murder.
Until he was forced out of office under pressure from his own political party, Thabane had fully intended to hang on to power until the end of July this year. The prime minister’s deployment of troops onto the streets of the capital Maseru, in April raised concerns over a possible attempt at another military coup, since the country had already gone through four since 1970, with the most recent one occurring in 2014.
Thomas Thabane, prime minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho, is facing ever more pressure from within his own party to resign because of his alleged involvement in the murder of his second wife, Lipolelo Thabane. They were separated when she was shot dead at close range in 2017, two days before her husband was inaugurated for his second term as prime minister. Thabane married his third wife, Maesaiah, two months later.
Police said the prime minister would also be charged with murder.
In early February this year, Maesaiah Thabane was charged with masterminding the murder of Lipolelo and was released on bail. The prime minister was questioned and police said he would also be charged with murder. He announced he would retire in July, and ignored an ultimatum by his party, the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC), to resign.
On Wednesday, April 29, the ABC rejected an attempt by Thabane to invoke immunity from prosecution. Both the ABC and the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) have called for him to step down.
The Lesotho senate has also amended the constitution to remove the prime minister’s power to dissolve parliament or call new elections. In March, Thabane attempted to suspend parliament for three months, allegedly over concerns about COVID-19, a move that was shut down by the country’s constitutional court. It seems only a matter of time until a vote of no-confidence forces Thabane to step down as prime minister.
An Act of Desperation
Until then, Thabane’s desire to stay in power risks plunging the small country into a major crisis. On Saturday, April 25, Thabane deployed armed soldiers with riot gear in the capital Maseru against what he called “rogue national elements” that wanted to destabilize the country, only to withdraw them hours later. Police officials and political analysts see it as nothing more than an intimidation tactic born out of desperation.
In response, the next day South Africa sent a diplomatic delegation to facilitate talks to help defuse the political tension.