By Tšepo Thibankhoe
The significant electoral decline of the Democratic Congress (DC) during June 2017’s national elections offered the former ruling party an opportunity to change its course and to embrace a different strategy that would appeal to a broader cross-section of Basotho voters.
Instead of doing so, the party under the leadership of the relatively young Mathibeli Mokhothu, has sunk to doing whatever it takes – no matter the consequences – to push the country to another snap election hoping that it can benefit from the divisions in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC).
It is not an exaggeration to say that the ABC is riven by political factionalism. Even the Court of Appeal said so on August 2.
The factional political contestation in the ABC, which started at the beginning of this year, has been over which faction is the dominant one.
One faction, it seems, is aligned to and has support of the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who is the leader of the party.
The other faction is aligned to and supports Professor Nqosa Mahao who was elected the party’s deputy leader in February against Thabane’s wishes.
This standoff between two factions weakens the country’s already dire socio-economic situation.
The squabble has not only destabilized ABC but also the coalition government and the general governance of the country.
ABC Member of Parliament (MP) for Koro-Koro constituency Motebang Koma in June filed a motion of no confidence in Thabane.
Koma’s motion was seconded by MP for Qalabane, Motlalentoa Letsosa, who is also deputy leader of DC.
Parliament was adjourned sine die before the motion could be tabled in the house.
According to the Constitution, if the National Assembly passes a resolution of no confidence in the government and the prime minister does not within three days thereafter either resign or advise a dissolution, the King may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, dissolve Parliament and call for a fresh election.
Throughout this episode, the DC has shown itself to be a party of short-term political opportunism rather than of true public service.
It has consistently placed its own advantage over the needs of Basotho and has called for an early election instead of waiting for the 2022 national election.
Its leader Mokhothu’s stance is that the alleged rot afflicting Thabane’s government can only be treated through an election that will produce a clear winner.
This is profoundly reckless and reveals the deficiency of values and substance in the DC today.
General elections will cost the country more than M300 million.
Already, between May 2012 and June 2017, the country has gone through three national elections and three changes of government.
The current coalition government came to power in 2017 after an election which saw the exit of another coalition government led by the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Mosisili’s coalition had itself assumed the reins of power after the exit of the previous coalition led by Thabane on the heels of violent episodes that resulted in deaths and political instability.
Surely Basotho have had more than enough of elections.
Not long ago, in Lesotho elections were regarded as the only instrument of democratic and peaceful transfer of power with the consent and choice of the majority.
In 2019, that view looks naïve.
New research has found that, across the board, Basotho have grown jaded about elections. The research warned that elections fan base is shrinking among Basotho, especially among younger people.
In fact, so rampant is elections indifference and disengagement among Basotho that a shocking share of them are open to trying something new.
Basotho who prefer “other methods” now outnumber those who think elections are the best way to choose their country’s leaders. This is according to the Afrobarometer’s most recent survey in Lesotho published last month.
The survey found that fewer than half (48 percent) of Basotho support elections as the best way to choose their leaders, a drop of 25 percentage points from 73 percent in 2014.
It is not surprising therefore that Basotho have poured out on social media to say in one voice that going to election and spending M300million, “would be madness”, according to the journalist Nthakoana Ngatane.
In this context, it is remarkable that Mokhothu and the DC are willing to drag the nation to another election purely in order to gain political advantage and position themselves as the last party standing.
While it is, of course, not the job of the DC and other opposition parties to support government, it is the job of every political party to serve the national interest.
It is not merely out of some lunacy that many Basotho have grown jaded about elections and fear the implications of yet another poll. It is out of an acute awareness of the delicate situation Lesotho faces today in which without meaningful political reform, elections will not solve the deep crisis that has paralysed the country since 2014.
All reasonable Basotho, including some supporters of the DC, can see that holding elections in a tense context and without reforms having been implemented, will inevitably result in another political deadlock.
This is not a trifling matter. The financial consequences of going to another election are not on a scale that the country could recover from. The stakes are extremely high for this poor nation, and the future of hundreds of thousands of poor Basotho is in the balance.
The country continues to experience high rates of unemployment, estimated at 32.8 percent according to the Bureau of Statistics 2017 survey.
This is a national crisis that feeds two of the country’s other big socio-economic challenges: poverty and inequality.
According to the United Nations (UN), Lesotho faces its worst hunger crisis in recent years with at least 600,000 needing urgent food aid by the end of this year. The figure could increase to more than 700,000 by the time of the next harvest in 2020.
Also, living against a backdrop of crime is a reality that Basotho face every day. An unwavering feeling of angst comes from multiple sources – violent crime, property crime, gender-based crime and all the many variances in between. And things seem to be getting worse.
The very nature of crime is a deterrent to doing business in both the formal and the informal sectors, meaning that firms – domestic or foreign – are less inclined to start a business.
There’s another harm, too, that inevitably transpires: the country’s crime rates can be off-putting for an untold number of tourists.
Tourism is a vital sector to the economy. In a country with an unemployment rate that is consistently measured above 25 percent, the tourism industry becomes even more significant.
The political leaders in government are corrupt. They have looted the state with remarkable determination, and people talk about it all the time.
All that these mean is that Lesotho has a long way to go, with numerous obstacles to overcome but a possibility of another election, dampens people’s spirits.
In a moment of crisis like this, the DC can earn the public’s trust by placing the national interest over its own desperate manoeuvres. But it has chosen not to. NW