BNP takes on Speaker over rebels

BNP takes on Speaker over rebels

Staff Reporter

MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) has dragged the Speaker of Parliament to the High Court for “misinterpreting the National Assembly Electoral Act” in a dispute involving two MPs the party fired.

The BNP argues Ntlhoi Motsamai was wrong when she ruled that under section 188(3) of the Act a proportional representation MP who has been fired by his party should not be forced to relinquish his seat in Parliament.

The party expelled its former general secretary Lesojane Leuta and the former women’s league president ’Mapalesa Matsumunyane in June during an internal power struggle.

The BNP then wrote Motsamai to kick them out of Parliament.

Motsamai however refused arguing the law did not give her powers to kick out the rebel MPs.

In a letter she wrote to the BNP, Motsamai said dismissal from a political party was not one of the stated grounds for an MP to vacate a seat under the Act.

The BNP’s general secretary Mokheseng Tekateka however filed the application on Monday asking the High Court to declare that Motsamai had misinterpreted the Act.

He wants the High Court to give “a meaningful and purposive interpretation to the provisions of section”.

He also wants the High Court to order Motsamai to declare the seats of Matsumunyane and Leuta vacant so that the party can replace them with those next in its proportional representation list.

Tekateka argues that in the Act the expression “resigns from a political party under which a member was elected” appearing in this provision means and includes a situation where a member stops being a member of the political party which nominated him or her as a member of the National Assembly.

The Act reads that a “member of the National Assembly allocated a seat by proportional representation shall vacate that seat if the member resigns as a member, resigns from the political party under which the member was elected, crosses the floor, dies or becomes disqualified for being a member under the Act”.

It however does not specify what happens when the member has been expelled by his own party.

The BNP argues that Matsumunyane and Leuta got the seats from the party and therefore they should vacate when it wants them to.

The BNP got a total of 31 508 votes countrywide and won the Mount Moorosi constituency during the 2015 general election.

“Upon convention of the constituency candidates’ votes into national political party votes and applying the statutory formula, Your Petitioner (BNP) was allocated six proportional representation seats,” the court documents read.

The party says the six candidates on the party list got into Parliament to represent it, together with Matsumunyane and Leuta, “as candidates and representatives of Your Petitioner (BNP)”.

The BNP says after terminating Matsumunyane and Leuta’s party membership following disciplinary processes, they party “duly notified (Motsamai) of the terminations in this regard”.

Motsamai in turn informed Parliament on June 13, 2016 that the BNP had notified her of the terminations and in the following month she was asked by the party to declare the two seats vacant, which she refused.

She wrote the party on August 30 refusing to declare the seats vacant.

The BNP says the High Court should not only pay due regard to the ordinary grammatical meaning of the words in the Act but should also consider its political history and purpose.

“The history of the electoral system in Lesotho reflects that the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) electoral model was adopted in order to accommodate representation in the National Assembly of political parties who have a popular vote nationally but fail to win at the constituency level,” the party argues.

“Thus, in order to arrive at the true intention of the draftsman of section 188 (3) of the National Assembly Electoral Act, 2011, the words in issue must be interpreted in the context of the Act as a whole, as well as the background material,” it says.

“It is a political party contesting proportional representation elections that nominates and submits a list of nominated candidates to the IEC. A decision on who should be in the list is made solely by the political party concerned.”

The BNP argues that after constituency votes have been declared, the IEC converts constituency candidates’ votes into national political party votes and “using the prescribed formula, political parties are allocated their share of the 40 proportional seats based on their popular vote”.

“From the reading of the above provisions, and in keeping with the spirit of the MMP electoral system, the 40 PR seats are allocated to political parties that participated in the proportional elections,” it argues.

“In the circumstances, a candidate elected to the National Assembly under proportional representation retains his seat as long as he represents and executes the mandate of a political party allocated the seat in issue.”

The BNP says Motsamai’s “restrictive reading of section 188 (3) of the Act” offends the spirit of the MMP electoral system and leads to an “absurdity that a member may retain a seat in the National Assembly even when he does no longer represent the interests of a party that has been allocated the seat”.

The intention of Parliament in section 188 (3) is that a member should vacate his seat if he no longer represents the interests of a political party that has actually been allocated the seat, the party argues.

“Otherwise, it would be absurd that a member who willingly leaves a political party should vacate a seat but a member expelled from the political party should retain his seat.”

The BNP says whether a member willingly or unwillingly leaves a political party, he is no longer a member and cannot be expected to represent its interests.

Leuta, Matsumunyane and the Attorney General have also been cited.

The respondents are expected to respond before the end of this month.

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