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Instability the real winner in Lesotho

2015-03-04 17:46

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The head to head 2015 election results with Tom Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Phakalisa Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) ending with respectively 40.31% and 40.99% of the vote emphasises the dawn of a new period of political instability - exactly the opposite of what the early election intended to achieve. This afternoon’s announcement (before the Lesotho IEC declared the proportional representation count) by Phakalitha Mosisili, the old fox of Lesotho politics, that he will form a coalition with the LCD and 5 other smaller parties to form a new government is the first investment in political instability.

Mixed into the election’s stalemate result are the personalities of three erstwhile colleagues in the Basutoland Congress Party and the personal tensions, the allegations of conspiracies and corruption and a history of distrust and schism that resulted in the formation of the current three largest parties in Lesotho: the ABC, DC and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy LCD) and it is difficult to envisage a period of stable government.

Lesotho’s National Assembly is composed of 120 members (80 representing constituencies and 40 proportional seats that are allocated to ensure that a party ends with a percentage of seats in accordance with its share of the vote). The election results highlighted a number of very important trends:

- The ABC improved its tally of constituencies from 17 (2007) to 26 (2012) and 40 (2015) and its vote from 138 917 in 2012 to 214 972 now.

- The ABC is, for the third election in a row, the party of choice for the modern sector in Lesotho: it now holds all the urban seats with the exception of those in the towns of Qacha’s Neck, Thaba Tseka and Moyeni in the district of Quthing. The DC’s share in the urban constituencies is falling.

- The DC contained its vote at 218 000 but the constituencies won by them dropped from 41 to 37.

- The LCD collapsed from 121 076 votes in 2012 to 56 477 and won now only 2 constituencies compared to the 12 in 2012.

- Quite surprisingly the old Basutoland National Party grew its votes by 32% from a very low 23 788 in 2012 to 31 508 votes for a 5.91% share of all votes, in the process winning a constituency, the first constituency win for them since the elections of 1998.

- The ABC has established itself as the dominating party of the Lowlands and a strong force in the northern mountain areas, with Mosisili’s DC keeping the southern districts (especially Qacha’s Neck, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing) as his powerbase.

The real winner (in terms of progress at the polls since 2012) is therefore Thabane’s ABC. But it seems unlikely that the ABC will be able to form a viable coalition since it will require him patching up his strenuous relationship with Metsing, leader of the LCD that caused the collapse of the 2012 coalition in June 2014. Thabane then accused his deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing of corruption after the Directorate for Corruption and Economic Offence (DCEO) discovered deposits of M328 000 and M118 000 in his bank accounts after a tender for road building was awarded to a contractor based on a revised tender report. These allegations led to the tensions between the police (loyal to Thabane) and the army (loyal to Metsing) and with Thabane accusing the army of organising a coup, one can discount a renewed ABC-LCD coalition.

The person holding the dice is Mosisili. He engaged on Tuesday evening with Thabane discussions about a coalition, but it is understood that the key issue was who would be the leading party: the one had a few more votes and the other a few more constituencies. In addition Thabane is despised by Mosisili’s intimate political support in Qacha’s Neck. Afternoon on Wednesday March 4 Mosisili announced that he would form a coalition with the LCD and five other parties, pre-empting the final announcement by the IEC of how the proportional crumbs will be allocated to the largest fractions of the political minnows.

But Lesotho knows no causal relationship between announcement, actions and durability. Mosisili clearly decided to patch up matters with Metsing, but there is quite a lot of acid to be neutralised. When Metsing and his supporters were applying pressure in the LCD from 2010 to 2012 that Mosisili should after 15 years make way for a new leader, Mosisili simply left the LCD before the 2012 elections and formed the DC. The route of reconciliation could be a deal with Mosisili ruling for 3 years and then paving the way for Metsing to take over. It is further rumoured that Metsing will wave his insistence on eventually succeeding Mosisili in return for the investigations against him by the DCEO to be dropped.

Mosisili may succeed in forming a coalition, but his personality is such that he can hardly sustain long working relationships without upsetting others. He broke with the old Basutoland Congress Party by forming the LCD when the BCP’s Executive Committee demanded the resignation of then leader Ntsu Mokhehle. The LCD made a clean sweep winning all but one of the constituencies in 1998, but Mosisili’s deputy leader Kelebone Maope broke away in 2002 just prior to the elections. In 2006 Tom Thabane could no longer stand matters out with the Mosisili and formed the ABC. Just before the 2012 elections Mosisili resigned from the LCD due to the pressures on him from the executive that mobilised behind Metsing and formed the DC, winning most seats, but forced out of power because of a coalition between Thabane and Metsing. No one is betting on this freshly announced coalition to be a rock of stability.

The trends of accelerating urbanisation and modernisation and the ABC’s consolidation of that portion of the electorate, is indicative that the future doesn’t belong to the mountains which is the bastion for the DC.

In the meanwhile, instability is well poised to impact on the Lesotho political landscape, especially since a demarcation of constituencies has not taken place. Several urban constituencies have 20 000 and more voters whilst the constituencies in Quthing average 13 036. Given the fact that Section 67 of the Lesotho Constitution demands that constituencies should be determined by a national quota of dividing the number of Lesotho citizens aged 21 years and older by 80 and that no deviation of this national norm should be more than 10%, it is clear that the DC as being a more rural party has benefited by winning several constituencies that are below the national norm: The Mohale’s Hoek district is an example, where the total voters of the rural constituencies of Taung, Qhalasi, Mekaling.

Qaqala and Mpharane numbers less than 60 000. If the Constitution were followed by the IEC, the DC would have won 4 constituencies and not 5, with the extra seat going to urban Maseru where the ABC won all constituencies. Likewise Quthing’s 5 constituencies could have been 4 and Leribe would have gained an additional seat.

It would not have resolved the current impasse of the two main parties ending neck in neck, but adherence to the Constitutional arrangements would have paved a better basis for forced co-operation. Since who is the real winner: The party that polled 3 601 votes more or the one that could have beaten the other by 43 constituency seats to 34 if the demarcation of constituencies were in accordance with the Constitution? Fasten your seat belts for another period of instability.

PS: Mr Fixit Ramaphosa, please note in future the constitutional requirements before you press for a “political” solution. Also about questions to the President in the South African Parliament…

Johannes Wessels of Rural Urban Integration Consultants has worked on numerous assignments in Lesotho since 1996.

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