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Lesotho's new PM sworn in after ex-leader accused of murder

AFP logoAFP 5/20/2020 AFP
a group of people standing next to a person in a suit and tie: Lesotho's former prime minister Thomas Thabane (L) said he "may have inadvertently erred" during his term, as he handed power to Moeketsi Majoro © Molise MOLISE Lesotho's former prime minister Thomas Thabane (L) said he "may have inadvertently erred" during his term, as he handed power to Moeketsi Majoro

Lesotho's former finance minister, Moeketsi Majoro, was sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday, a day after the resignation of Thomas Thabane, who quit after being accused of conspiring to murder of his wife.

a person wearing a suit and tie: Lesotho's newly appointed Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro vowed to usher in "a new version" of leadership © Molise MOLISE Lesotho's newly appointed Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro vowed to usher in "a new version" of leadership

The tiny southern African kingdom was plunged into crisis after the June 2017 killing, and pressure had built relentlessly for 80-year-old Thabane to step down. 

On Tuesday, he confirmed his resignation, clearing the way for 58-year-old Majoro, a seasoned economist, to take the reins. 

Thabane attended Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony at the royal palace of King Letsie III, handing Majoro a copy of the constitution to formally signal the transfer of power. 

The men tapped elbows instead of shaking hands, and Majoro wore a face mask as a precaution against coronavirus. 

"I will be a true and faithful prime minister, so help me God," said Majoro, who previously worked as a executive director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in one of its Africa offices. 

Thabane stepped down following months of calls for his resignation over the murder of his estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane in 2017, just two days before he took office. He denies any involvement in her death.

The couple were in the midst of a bitter divorce when she was gunned down outside her home, sending shockwaves through the kingdom.  

Two months later he married his now wife Maesaiah Thabane, 43, who is considered a co-conspirator ni the killing. 

She has been charged with murder and is out on bail.

- 'I may have erred' - 

Maesaiah was absent from Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony, where her husband apologised for his shortcomings during his nearly three years in office. 

"In as much as I tried my level best to serve His Majesty and Basotho with dedication and loyalty... I may have inadvertently erred in several ways during my tenure as prime minister."

"Consequently I sincerely wish to ask you to forgive me for my mistakes," said Thabane.

His election in 2017 had brought hopes of stability to Lesotho, which has a long history of political turmoil. 

Majoro, who was first appointed to the cabinet by Thabane in 2013, vowed Wednesday to usher in "a new version" of leadership and "bring back their (people's) trust to the government".

He will serve out Thabane's remaining term before the next round of elections in 2022. 

"We don't have much time on our side. We only have two years left before the elections yet there is a lot of work ahead of us. 

"Fifty-four years after independence, the scourge of hunger and poverty is a serious issue in this country and we need to deal with this issue decisively," he said.

Majoro, who was aligned to Thabane in the divided ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, emerged a consensus candidate to take over from Thabane.

Thabane remains the ABC party president, and analysts warn that Majoro, while highly qualified for the premier's job, may face a challenge to unite the fractured party.

"I have no doubt that he will stabilise the political landscape of Lesotho and hopefully use his economics expertise and networks to move the country forward," said Kevin Malunga, a South Africa-based lawyer who follows developments in Lesotho.

Political instability and coup attempts have meant that no premier has served out a full five-year term over the past decade in Lesotho, a country of 2.2 million people surrounded by South Africa.

Amnesty International has meanwhile called on the new administration to ensure Thabane faces justice for his alleged role in the murder.

"Thabane's resignation should not be a license to immunity," it said in a statement.

"The wheels of justice have not turned fast enough in this scandalous case while Thabane was in power -- they must do so now," said Amnesty's east and southern Africa director, Deprose Muchena.

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