Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane left the country, missing a court appearance at where he was expected to be charged with murdering his estranged wife.
Thabane (80) was due in court over the death of Lipolelo Thabane, shot dead in June 2017 two days before he took office for a second stint as prime minister.
Police said last week Thabane was to be charged with Lipolelo’s murder. His present wife, Maesaiah Thabane (42) who married Thabane two months after Lipolelo was killed, was charged with ordering the killing and is on bail. The prime minister and his new wife deny any role in Lipolelo’s death.
Thabane’s son Potlako told Reuters his father was in South Africa “to see a doctor.”
“He’s not fled the country,” Potlako Thabane added.
The murder case caused turmoil in the tiny state of two million encircled by South Africa. The prime minister said he will resign and several politicians are jostling to take over.
Lesotho has a history of instability and has seen a number of military coups since independence from Britain in 1966. The army has not taken sides this time around, so a coup is not yet likely.
Thabane’s private secretary Thabo Thakalekoala said the prime minister would be back in Lesotho at some time.
Lipolelo, then 58, and Thabane were going through an acrimonious divorce when an unidentified assailant shot her dead in her car.
Deputy Police Commissioner Paseka Mokete told a news conference if Thabane tried to flee justice, police would issue an arrest warrant.
“An arrangement will be made for him to appear and be formally charged. We shall resort to legal means to bring the prime minister to court,” Mokete added.
Thabane previously told a Lesotho radio station he would step down at the end of July, but did not mention the case and instead cited old age. His All Basotho Convention (ABC), the main party in the governing coalition, gave him a deadline of Thursday to resign.
With no clear front-runner in the ABC and some opposition leaders clamouring for the job,analysts expect another general election soon.
“While Thabane’s departure promises progress in reforming the political quagmire of Lesotho politics and security issues, it also holds danger,” said NKC Research political analyst Gary van Staden.
In 2014, Thabane fled Lesotho for South Africa after the army surrounded his residence and police stations in Maseru. He returned under South African police escort.
In 1998 at least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting.
Van Staden wasn’t expecting another military intervention but a contested race to succeed Thabane could see political instability.