Setback for opposition

Setback for opposition

Leisa Leisanyane

MASERU – THE plan to oust Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili suffered a major setback this week after the opposition’s court battle to reopen parliament hit a brickwall in the High Court.
This, after the High Court said it needs to decide if it has power to hear the matter before it can decide whether the case should be treated as an urgent application.
Opposition MPs want the court to compel Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai to reopen parliament which they argue she unprocedurally adjourned.
In their urgent application the MPs want the court to instruct Motsamai to open parliament within three days after finalization of the order.
The idea was to get the order and then quickly push a vote of no confidence against Mosisili who has since threatened to call an early election if the MPs try to push him out.
They want to replace his with his former deputy leader Monyane Moleleki who has since cobbled a coalition deal with Thomas Thabane of the All Basotho Convention (ABC).
But that plan will now have to wait until January 23 when the court will hear argument on whether it has jurisdiction to deal with the case.

That means the push to form a new government in parliament will remain on the backburner until then.
Yet even if the court agrees that it has power to hear the case attention will turn to the issue of whether the matter is urgent. That too might be ground for a protracted battle that will frustrate the opposition’s plan.

Once the issue of urgency is settle the court will turn to the merits of the case.
On Tuesday the case had barely started when Justices Semapo Peete, Sakoane Sakoane and Lebohang Molete retreated to the chambers with the lawyers for both parties.
When they returned after a long adjournment Justice Peete said they had decided that the matter of jurisdiction should be argued on January 23 next year.
Justice Peete said the “submission for urgency is not disregarded but the issue of jurisdiction must take precedence”.
When the court does not have jurisdiction the issue of urgency is redundant, he said.

Before the adjournment Justice Sakoane had queried if the court has power to deal with issues that happen “within the four walls of parliament”.
Advocate Monaheng Rasekoai, representing the MPs, responded that the court does have jurisdiction because the closure of parliament has consequences far beyond its confines. Ordinary people, Rasekoai argued, had been affected by the closure.

“Aren’t you saying we should jump into the arena of determining the duration of the business of the parliament and how long it should take?” Justice Sakoane asked.
But Rasekoai insisted that they are only seeking a review of the decision that has caused an “administration malady”.
Justice Sakoane retorted that given the notion of separation of power, the court cannot interfere with the business of the parliament.
Rasekoai countered that if the Speaker improperly exercised her discretion on Standing Order 18.4 it is important for the court to interrogate the decision.
“What the court should interrogate is the exercise of her administration powers,” he said. Justice Sakoane however noted that the only exception to which the court can interfere with the parliament’s business is when there is a constitutional violation.

In their court papers the MPs argued that the closure of parliament has created a constitutional deadlock which must be addressed as a matter of urgency there is already a coalition government-in-waiting but it can only be endorsed in parliament.
They said because a significant number of MPs have crossed from the ruling coalition government its status in parliament has changed. The matter, they argue, is now of public interest because it concerns the legitimacy of the government.

A new coalition agreement has been entered into by a majority of members of parliament and the closure of the parliament on the basis of a standing order which has been irregularly applied and interpreted, thus this matter must be attended to urgently.”
They further argued that has emasculated elected MPs by closing parliament because they cannot perform their constitutional mandate. The closure of the parliament is not in the best interest of the country, they said.

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