/ 9 October 2006

Top Lesotho minister quits to form rival party

A leading member of Lesotho’s Cabinet resigned Monday and launched a new party to challenge the Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s (LCD) decade-long grip on power in elections next year.

Science and Communications Minister Tom Thabane, an ex-foreign minister who was regarded as number three in Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s regime, said the government of the tiny Southern African kingdom had lost its way.

Thabane announced the launch of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), which nine ruling party lawmakers joined immediately.

Thabane said he had left the LCD ”because my ability to deliver as a minister of government was being stifled by the conditions that exist within the party and in the government”.

He said the fledgling ABC would ”unite all Lesotho citizens … under one political movement with the stated aim of fighting hunger, poverty, disease and ignorance. And to fight and eliminate crime and corruption.”

One of the poorest countries in Africa, landlocked Lesotho is grappling with a 23,2% Aids infection rate, according to the latest United Nations figures.

Thabane’s resignation comes after he led a group of 16 LCD lawmakers in a boycott of a special leadership conference convened by Prime Minister Mosisili on Sunday.

Were all the other LCD rebels to join Thabane’s new party, it would become the largest opposition grouping in the 120-seat legislature. There are currently eight other opposition parties represented in Parliament.

Thabane had been seen as the heir apparent to Mosisili while serving as foreign minister but was sidelined in a recent government reshuffle.

He denied his shock resignation was due to thwarted ambition within the LCD ranks, saying: ”I know there is a lot of talk going around that I was vying for the leadership of the LCD. I have never been in the race for the leadership.”

His replacement at the foreign ministry, Monyane Moleleki, is now regarded as the most likely successor to Mosisili as leader of the landlocked mountainous kingdom, which is completely surrounded by South Africa.

The 61-year-old Mosisili, who has been prime minister since 1998, had been expected to stand down before the next general elections but he later decided to stand for re-election as LCD chief, winning comfortably in January.

General elections are expected to take place in around six months’ time, although no date has yet been set. — Sapa-AFP