Election was a vote-of-no confidence in ruling parties



The national assembly elections held on Friday October 7 have delivered startling results. The All Basotho Convention (ABC), which was the biggest party in the 10th parliament, has not won a single constituency seat out of the 79 constituencies in which elections were held. This after the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) declared a failed election in the 80th constituency, Stadium Area, following the Basotholand Total Liberation Congress (BTLC) candidate, Molefi Chapi.

The Democratic Congress (DC) led by former Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu, bagged an unexpected 29 constituencies. The two former ruling parties’ challenge came from a new party, Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), established by businessman Ntsokoane Matekane and his colleagues in March this year. The traditionally dominant parties bled the constituencies they had won in the previous elections to the RFP.

This has not only shocked the local voters and political commentators, but also the international community which has been left in awe by the brave step the Basotho have made in what many call a protest vote. Although the post elections anxiety is hitting many awaiting with anticipation and high expectations from the newly elected government, experts advise Basotho to be patient and give the new players a chance to learn what resources are available for them to be able to deliver the nation out of the already corrupted system. But why are Basotho punishing the former ruling parties?

Political analyst and gender analyst, Dr Litlhare Rabele, pointed out to a number of issues largely speaking to the fact that voters decided to vote out the previous ruling coalition parties, in an interview with Public Eye. She says the vote points to the fact that Basotho eventually got tired of corruption, poverty, unemployment, lack of health services among many other disappointments from these parties. It could also be that the voters are now enlightened on political issues leading to their desire for a complete overhaul of the legislature and executive, she observes.

She notes that this also goes on to show how democratic and intelligent Basotho have become by fiercely pushing for a change of who governs them through set democratic processes and exercising their right to vote, instead of resorting to other illegal means of getting rid of an unwanted government. Concerning the seemingly high turn up of young people at voting stations, Dr Rabele says this could only lay bare the level of disappointment on previous governments. She cites BachaShutDown protests as some of the indications that young people are tired and want change.

With regard to women participation in politics, Dr Rabele says it is promising that there are women who openly participate in politics by taking the lead as party leaders and, despite the fact that none of them won any constituency, their participation remains a positive highlight in Lesotho’s political realm. She praises the level of peace and calm that prevailed throughout the elections campaign, voting and post-elections, pointing out that there were no reports of threats, intimidation or violence by those who participated in these elections.

Reacting to an Afrobarometer study conducted before elections revealing that Basotho believe that Members of Parliament (MPs) are the most corrupt people in the country, Dr Rabele says voters could have rightfully decided to vote in the manner they did because MPs appeared concerned more about their own benefits disregarding the needs of the masses.

The findings showed that Basotho believe that MPs are more corrupt than police, civil servants and the now-disbanded National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC). “This is a sign that Basotho have been watching and listening and MPs underestimated the people’s intelligence and ability to realise when they are being treated wrongfully and disregarded,” Dr Rabele says.

She further notes that if the MPs could have listened to the lamentations of the people who elected them they could have won some more hearts to be voted back into the National Assembly. Instead, by taking voters for granted they showed their level of disrespect of the very people who put them in power.

Dr Rabele says the country’s education system needs to change because it offers nothing but a white-collar type of mindset to young people who tend to think that government is supposed to create jobs.The country needs a paradigm shift on education and begin to encourage and support entrepreneurship and agricultural project to generate employment, she adds. She notes that what could also assist in curbing high unemployment is for the government to support local talent and artistes of all kinds and create platforms for them to showcase their talents.

If the government can change its way of thinking around the job creation as opposed to white-collar jobs, the country could also develop on promoting tourism and local produce instated of importing products that can easily be produced in-country, she notes. Speaking on whether the citizens are likely to see massive change within a short time with the newly elected government, Rabele states that it quite difficult to say. This is because the new government is coming in to work with the corrupted civil servants who are permanent government employees, as a result, it is best not to raise expectations and be realistic to changes expected as some civil servants are likely to be the enemies of change given that some of them might be supporting opposition, she notes.

The most prominent reason for the recently seen shift in the choice of parties to put into power is appalling corruption. Last year MPs passed the Members of Parliament (Amendment of schedule) Regulations of 2020 which entitled them to M5 000 monthly tax-free petrol allowances, among other benefits. This was while the government had imposed a protective lockdown and encouraged citizens to stay at home in order to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. The regulations sparked outrage and a group of young people wrote to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, demanding that the new petrol benefit be revoked as a matter of urgency.

They said the decision was ludicrous and pointed clearly to one thing: “That our elected representatives seem to be totally out of actual touch with the plight of ordinary citizens.” In August last year, some youth who rallied in a march to petition Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro for a review of MPs’ petrol allowances were arrested by the police. Also, many Basotho were angry with the government earlier this year when the Auditor General (AG) published a report which revealed there was M6.157 billion which could not be accounted for.

“The consolidated statement of cash receipts and payments shows that the government had a cash balance of M11.620 billion as at March 2021. “However, note 15 to the financial statement reflects M5.463 billion held in 383 accounts at various banks, resulting in an unexplained shortfall of M6.157 billion,” reads the AG report. Another reason why Basotho are disgruntled is the high unemployment rate, especially among educated youths.

An assessment done by the World Bank in 2021 found out that youth unemployment in Lesotho was among the highest in the world, and three times higher than the average rate observed in other lower-middle-income countries. Apart from the very high unemployment rate, the World Bank observed that the other particularly disturbing trend was that more and more Basotho had become discouraged and given up looking for work altogether.

It noted that half of the working-age population is not participating in the labour market (does not have a job nor is looking for one), constituting a huge untapped potential for economic growth. In 2020, young people took to the streets of Maseru to protest against unemployment. The youth protest, dubbed BachaShutDown, was crushed by heavily-armed police. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe released a statement in the aftermath saying it was worrying that the police had to use firearms, “and in the process injuring a journalist who was carrying out her duties.”

Lack of productive employment results in high vulnerability to poverty. Approximately half of the youth in Lesotho live below the poverty line. According to the poverty assessment produced jointly by the World Bank and the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics in 2019, more than 75 percent of the population is either poor or vulnerable to poverty. Poverty remains highly concentrated in rural areas where four out five of poor citizens live. According to the 2016 census, 66 percent of Lesotho’s two-million population lives in rural areas where agriculture plays a major role to support livelihoods.

Key challenges in the agriculture sector include climate change and environmental shocks and in 2015 and 2016, Lesotho endured historically low rainfall. Basotho have also decried the poor state of roads which are riddled with potholes. Due to the recent heavy rains, some of the country’s bridges have been washed away and the water has left farrows and ponds in the roads. The state of gravel and tarred roads is generally poor, clearly crying out for attention. In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published data which showed that Lesotho recorded a high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries, logging 584 deaths mainly caused by road traffic accidents.

The primary source of these road accidents, according to WHO, was usually attributed to poor road infrastructure that had gone unattended for years. The development of road infrastructure has not been prioritised by the government and extreme weather conditions make it hard for Basotho to survive. Key roads in Maseru are damaged and have largely been left unattended. That is why many Basotho are desperate to see the backs of the politicians who are ruling the country.

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