MASERU – In the wake of the prolonged war raging in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC), which is now threatening to wreck Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s coalition administration, experts have advised Basotho to gird themselves for a snap poll to pull the country back from the brink.
Opposition parties have been stoking speculation of an early poll since Thabane himself admitted his government was in terminal decline, before he hastily recanted the statement.
The ruling ABC has been entangled in factional fights since Prof. Nqosa Mahao, was elected deputy leader in February.
The domestic tiff has spilt into the court with experts now saying “it’s only a matter of time before we go to elections”.
The analysts note that in 1997, 2006, 2012 and 2016 ructions in ruling parties broke up governments, leading to impromptu polls.
In 1997, intense infighting forced Basotho Congress Party (BCP) leader Dr Ntsu Mokhehle, to dump the party he founded to form the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), thus usurping BCP governmental power.
Again in 2006, Thabane mimicked Mokhele when he crossed the floor in parliament with 17 MPs from the ruling LCD to the newly formed ABC. This sudden shift compelled former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to dissolve parliament and call a snap election.
In February 2012, Mosisili jumped ship himself and formed the Democratic Congress (DC) when he fell out with his LCD executive committee which fiercely backed the then secretary general Mothetjoa Metsing.
Metsing soon entered into Lesotho’s first coalition government with Thabane’s ABC and the Basotho National Party (BNP).
That government, however, collapsed in 2015 leading to formation of Lesotho’s second coalition government, this time comprising seven parties, with Mosisili at the helm.
But Mosisili was to suffer yet another setback in November 2016 when he differed with the DC NEC again, which this time supported his former Deputy Leader Monyane Moleleki.
Moleleki took 23 MPs with him and formed the Alliance of Democrats (AD) which has teamed up with Thabane in the current four-party coalition government.
This body of evidence has convinced analysts the country’s third election in seven years could be on the horizon “because history provides us with several points of reference”.
They also noted that instead of prolonging Basotho’s agony by forming a government of national unity (GNU) which Metsing has been calling for, “we should rather go for elections, (as) the cost of going to the polls is immaterial”.
They added that parties opposed to elections feared performing poorly in elections “hence they would rather propose a GNU”.
In an exclusive interview with Public Eye recently, Mokhothu derided coalition governments, saying these arrangements undermined democracy and were a drain on the public purse.
Mokhothu said the coalition governments were cesspits of malfeasance and were willing tools with which to siphon state resources.
The youthful DC leader said the rot afflicting the present government could only be surgically treated through an election that produced a clear winner.
In contrast, Metsing believes “calling fresh elections now will (not) usher in the peace and stability and we need”.
He said “until the playing field has been levelled by reforms” through constitutional and parliamentary reforms, elections would produce a faulty outcome.
Metsing argued it was crucial to buttress reforms to end the current practice where MPs derailed governments midstream to avoid repaying M500 000 interest-free loans.
“We are therefore saying there is no guarantee that Lesotho is stable enough, that problems we complained about have been solved, and that we are assured a stable government that will hold for five years should we go to the polls.
“(But) If there are political parties that believe this country needs elections and are pushing us in that direction, well, we will have no choice but to go. But LCD’s stance is that if the laws and in particular the constitution have not been reviewed and the playing field has not been levelled, then it’s not only a waste of time to go to elections, but it is also a burden on the public purse,” Metsing said.
The LCD also rejected the argument a single political party could garner enough majority votes to go it alone.
“I am saying this because any government borne of such elections will be still a coalition in nature. If you look at the voting trend from 2012 to date, there is no person who can hope that after two weeks from now the situation would have changed, and that any one will be able to emulate the BCP in 1993 under Ntsu Mokhehle, and LCD 1997, 2002 and 2006 by winning the majority of seats to become a one-party government,” Metsing said.
“That is not going to happen anytime soon. We are saying perhaps after five years if this government continues on its destructive path, then people might take their votes from them.
“What we believe as LCD is that should Lesotho go for elections next week, we will still emerge on the other side with a coalition government, the same as what we have now where there is no stability and peace. There’s no use calling elections in an environment that is not conducive.”
Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Adv. Lekhetho Rakuoane argues that instead of calling fresh elections, key state institutions that foster democracy should be overhauled first.
“When you call elections time and again … there is not much quality work that goes on in parliament with new people coming every two years. Parliament has become such a playground and we think perhaps it’s time that we protected it.”
Socialists Revolutionaries (SR) leader, Teboho Mojapela, opposes elections because “Lesotho should first implement it reforms programme” and that “elections are not a solution to Lesotho’s perennial problems”.
“I have always been opposed to (early) elections. I still am because I believe that we first must implement the reforms programme before we can even talk elections,” Mojapela said.
“Lesotho’s problems go much deeper than elections. Basotho are unhappy and we must first get to the core of the anger and unhappiness and establish the cause of our problems. That’s why I believe we need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).”
Mojapela added that if Lesotho was to be rescued from its perennial political problems, the country should first dismantle its security agencies which he said were “polarised and ravaged by corruption”.
“If it were up to me, Lesotho’s security agencies should be dismantled because there is rampant corruption and polarisation within all of those institutions, from the helm to the very bottom of the pile, cleaning ladies included,” Mojapela said.
“Going to elections is as good as trying to solve a problem by creating a more complex one. We are now beset with scores of challenges, such as fixing problems that were unnecessarily created by previous governments.
“But if we go to elections, it then means we are creating a vicious cycle of corruption. I mean, we removed the previous government because of corruption, only to replace it with a more corrupt one. If we call elections now, it then means that we are creating an opportunity for the corrupt people we got rid of to ascend to power.”
However, independent political analyst Arthur Majara is not convinced that calling fresh elections would be a burden on Lesotho’s ailing economy because “peace and stability are costly and the key to attaining them in any democracy is elections”.
“Government is the primary source of a democratic dispensation. It’s all about economy and peace, and they are very expensive. The M300 million that people are complaining about is immaterial compared to peace and stability. What kind of a democratic dispensation do we want to build?” Majara asked.
Majara further said political parties that were opposed to elections feared getting a drabbing at the polls.
“These people who are calling for a GNU instead of elections are scared of elections. They are aware that they are going to fail at the polls. GNUs are useless and have not helped matters where they were formed,” Majara said.
“A GNU in Lesotho is only going to tamper with democracy because democracy is not about appointing people to cabinet. GNU is only a temporary measure and the key feature of democracy is elections. There’s nothing that politicians fear the world over than elections.”
On the fate of the ABC, Majara said what was happening in the ABC was nothing new.
Lesotho’s history was littered with incidents were governments have collapsed because of internal party conflict.
“The ABC factions will never reconcile, especially with their court fights intensifying each day. If ABC splits and Thabane’s faction forms government with, say DC, chances are Thabane will chase Mahao and his people out of the country into exile.
“But then again, I doubt that DC would want to entangle itself with ABC because it will surely meet its death. And DC is not ready to compromise itself,” Majara claimed.
“But Thabane knows that Mahao’s camp comprises very brave, formidable people such as Attorney Nthontho and several others. Thabane knows that one way or the other, he will lose to Mahao. One way or the other, elections are on the horizon.”
Transformation Resource (TRC) Director Tsikoane Peshoane, differed sharply with Majara, arguing that Lesotho could not afford to squander public funds on elections.
The TRC boss said the election route had been tried before but to date, it had not ushered in any solutions.
“Our position as TRC is that it not necessary to further deepen the instability in our country by going to elections. That route will not help because it has been tried and tested but ushered in no solutions. No Mosotho is ready for elections. No political party is ready for elections. Any politician vouching for elections now is devoid of love for this country,” Peshoane said.
“Any politician who pushes for elections at this point in Lesotho’s history when there are many other options provided by the constitution is myopic and selfish. People do not have an appetite for elections. Why should we have elections at the expense of reforms?”
Peshoane added that if there were politicians eyeing an opportunity in the crisis afflicting the country now “whoever that person is, is selfish and myopic”.
“Besides, I doubt that ABC would also support the call for elections because they know what happens when a party contests elections after a devastating split,” Peshoane said.