Thomas Thabane, the Lesotho prime minister designate following the June 3 snap elections, has rejected a Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) security element assigned to him after being sworn in as a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly.
Upon departure from the special sitting of the House during which 117 legislators took oath of office, military officers given for his protection were barred from assuming duty by Thabane's private bodyguards.
It is standard practice in Lesotho for a prime minister designate to be put under military protection immediately upon swearing in as an MP in preparation for the official inauguration. The All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader was accorded similar treatment in 2012 before his previous time on the job.
Thabane’s relations with the army curdled when he fired the now-retired LDF commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, a move that triggered the failed 2014 coup and the eventual killing of Maaparankoe Mahao, who had been promoted to replace Kamoli.
After he lost the 2015 snap elections and became opposition leader, Thabane was entitled to military security as a benefit in that position but he rejected their offer; he voiced discomfort at being protected by the same army that had attempted to kill him, leading to his flight to South Africa in 2014.
Thabane was exiled again in May 2015 upon suspicion of another LDF attempt at his life. He returned only in January this year, to mount pressure on the removal of Pakalitha Mosisili.
Prior to this year’s elections Thabane called for army personnel to be confined to their barracks ahead of and on poll day, citing fear of intimidation of voters and interference in the electoral process. The LDF was quick to declare that Thabane was not the LDF commander and could not give orders to the army.
Thabane remains under the protection of his private security against the country’s standard practices, and speaking to African Independent, ABC secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele said they were still in talks with the army command.
Ntsekele said the ABC did not understand protection by the LDF to be mandatory, “especially as he has not yet been sworn in as prime minister. We have to reach a common ground and ensure that all parties are satisfied, and that agreement has to be reached before Friday when he is expected to be inaugurated,” Ntsekele said. He refused to elaborate on the negotiations.
The developments follow widespread suspicions around the capital, Maseru, that a section of the military officers assigned duty as Thabane’s guards is part of the group that has been protecting and working closely with outgoing deputy prime minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who has a long-standing rivalry with Thabane.