A bird’s eye view of Lesotho polls, as race hots up

By Sechaba Mokhethi

Maseru – With political parties hitting the campaign trail ahead of the June 3 elections, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili is accusing civil society movements of mounting a crusade to dissuade voters from voting for his party that recently struck an election pact with two other parties.

Mosisili leads the Democratic Congress (DC), and goes to the polls with an agreement to battle for retention of executive powers with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) led by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and minnows Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) which is led by home affairs minister Lekhetho Rakuoane – in what he perceives as a resuscitation of the ‘congress’ political doctrine.

The DC, LCD and PFD pact will see the DC contesting in 54 of the tiny kingdom’s 80 constituencies while the LCD will vie for 25 constituencies, while the PFD will be helped to wrestle its Qalo constituency stronghold from the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC).

In all constituencies where the DC will be contesting, supporters of the LCD have been ordered to vote DC, and a similar pattern will be followed in those where the LCD will be contesting. The DC supporters are also expected to vote for the PFD in the Qalo constituency.

The prime minister’s tirade has not come unexpected, with growing dissent and resistance to his rule visible in many sections of society.

He delivers this onslaught on civil society without substantiating his claims.

Civil society groups, in collaboration with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), have launched a voter education campaign aiming for an 85 percent voter turnout to fight apparent apathy among voters in Lesotho. Since independence, the country has recorded the highest turnout of 82 percent in 1970 but has since experienced a continuous decline, recording 46 percent in 2015.

The prime minister has also pointed an accusing finger at “certain priests and teachers” claiming they are campaigning against voting for these parties in some of the country’s schools and churches.  He argues this anti-congress campaign is powered by the roping in of civil society groups in voter education, cautioning his supporters to tread carefully as they “were likely to not only be educated on how they should vote but who to vote for”.

Controversial appointments

Mosisili, who lost a vote of no confidence on March 1, on April 20 made the controversial appointment of a South African Judge Robert Nugent as President of the Court of Appeal. He had earlier appointed five ambassadors and a plethora of embassy staff from his party.

On 1 April Mosisili’s son, Rethabile, began his new job as the country’s Chief Delegate to the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC) tasked with implementing the largest partnership between Lesotho and South — the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

With this appointment, Mosisili’s son earns M180, 000 monthly and coupled with the M45, 000 he makes as a government appointee to the board of Letšeng Diamond Mine, amounts to a whooping M225, 000 ($17, 145.10) per month.

Analysts say all appointments made as the country nears the June 3 poll are meant to secure Mosisili’s interests after elections. “It’s Mosisili’s masterstroke to rule from the grave,” observed political science Professor Mafa Sejanamane of the National University of Lesotho.

Mixed bag of promises

The Mosisili-led elections pact faces stiff competition from a bloc of a quartet of opposition parties comprising the rapidly growing ABC, DC splinter Alliance of Democrats (AD), the Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

As one of the 29 parties vying for its share of Lesotho’s 1.2 million voters, the ABC intends to implement all the recommendations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) sponsored commission of inquiry, prioritising reform of security institutions if it emerges as the government from the forthcoming polls – all the parties have only pledged to support inclusive reforms.

The party promises to increase pension for the elderly from M520 to M700 and reduce illegibility age from the current 70 to 60 years. It pledges to uproot stock theft and graft although its style focus is limited to out of the party’s periphery in its past coalition.

The ABC ally, AD, seeks to restore peace by uniting the Basotho through enactment of proper laws and end hate speech spearheaded by Mosisili who separates the nation as congress leaning and the nationalists who cannot work together.

They also promise a corruption-free state.

However, its leader got acquitted from corruption charges on March 14 after the prosecution failed to prosecute the case as it had not furnished the defence team with documents required by the defence lawyers to prepare their defence. Shockingly, a docket of Moleleki’s case vanished at police offices after he was appointed Minister of Police by Mosisili when the seven-party coalition assumed power in March 2015.

The AD understands there is no clear policy for the youth, in the age group of 18 to 35, comprising mainly tertiary graduates; thus their call for job creation for young people to increase the number of tax-payers so that the amount of elderly pensions and services delivery can easily be improved.

The DC-LCD alliance seeks to reunite the congress movements, arguing the union is bound to influence the entire nation – this despite their “it’s either you are with us or a nationalist” campaign.

They believe Lesotho can only prosper if congress movements work together and not mixing with other parties. The two are yet to launch their combined manifesto.

Vote-buying remains cancerous 

On April 18, political parties registered with the IEC pledged to abide by the electoral code of conduct but cases of breaching the code continue to surface although a very minimal number is presented to the IEC.

The DC candidate for the Malingoaneng constituency Serialong Qoo, who is also the minister of communications, was found guilty of vote buying by an IEC Tribunal last week. Qoo had donated 33 computers to Mapholaneng Primary and High schools in Mokhotlong where his is contesting.

Despite this trend setting formal warning to Qoo, the spouse of the ABC leader, ‘Maisaiah Thabane, on Sunday handed out paraffin heaters, 5 litres paraffin, soap and 12,5kg of both maize and bread flour to 40 elders during the party’s campaign rally in Mohale’s Hoek constituency.

While the opposition accuses parties in government of using public resources such as vehicles and machinery for roads construction in constituencies of interest as a way to woo more voters, flouting the electoral code of conduct seems to be a two-way problem.

For the IEC to act on these incidents, a written complaint concerning the contravention of the code must be submitted to the director of elections who shall refer the complaint for determination by a tribunal appointed by the IEC.

May 2017
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