A test for our democracy

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IN two days’ time Basotho will once again trudge to the polls in three constituency by-elections that could serve as a litmus test for our fledgling democracy.

The central characters on the country’s political stage — the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), the Basotho National Party and the All Basotho Convention (ABC) — will lock horns in Saturday’s elections.

We are watching these by-elections with keen interest.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) already has its work clearly cut out.

We expect the IEC to run a smooth, credible process that does not produce contested electoral outcomes.

We have as a nation unfortunately built a notorious reputation for haggling after almost every election.

The vanquished do not graciously accept that they lost while the winners are not always magnanimous in victory.

It is time we bring this negative perception to a halt starting with the three by-elections this weekend.

The by-elections will be held in Hololo, Mpharane and Sebapala which, significantly, are all impoverished rural constituencies.

We expect bruising electoral battles in the three constituencies if the fierce campaigning that we witnessed over the past two months is anything to go by.

The by-elections in Hololo and Mpharane were called following the deaths of the incumbent MPs over the past couple of months.

In Sebapala, we have an interesting scenario where the MP, Kabelo Mafura, will try to retain his seat under circumstances that we think are bizarre.

Mafura gambled with his political life when he quit his proportional representation seat in parliament earlier this year arguing he needed to seek a direct mandate from the people.

We wish him well.

The outcome of the elections will not adversely tilt the balance of power in the National Assembly.

Whatever happens this Saturday the LCD will still retain its healthy majority in parliament.

Save for the bragging rights for the winners, the by-elections will not trigger a significant redrawing of the country’s power dynamics.

But the by-elections could still serve as a useful marker of the political direction the country is taking as well as gauge the national mood.

A win for the LCD in the three elections would likely confirm that voters are still happy with the performance of the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

On the other hand, a victory for any of the opposition parties could indicate dissatisfaction with the government.

With a general election looming in 2012, whatever result from Saturday’s polls will therefore be significant.

We have kept close watch of political parties ever since they began campaigning in earnest for the three seats about two months ago.

We must state that we are extremely disappointed by the quality of debate surrounding the major electoral issues that are crying out for attention in the three constituencies.

The issues of poverty, unemployment, HIV and Aids and rural underdevelopment — among many others — appeared quite peripheral in the electoral campaigns.

Instead what we saw were politicians drunk with power and seeking to outdo each other as they exchanged verbal insults.

None of the candidates appeared prepared to clearly enunciate their programme of action to address the numerous challenges affecting the electorate.

As we go into the elections on Saturday we are still at a loss as to what the real issues at stake are for the people of Mpharane, Sebapala and Hololo.

We are certain that they cannot be a contented lot.

We still do not know what the parties are proposing to do with the rampant poverty in rural constituencies.

Unemployment continues to present a challenge to rural voters.

The Aids pandemic is continuing to mow down about 20 000 people every year.

There is also the serious problem of infrastructure with some areas still inaccessible because there are no roads.

And what happened to the last electoral promises?

This Saturday voters have a choice to punish at the polls those who have failed to deliver on their promises.

This is their only chance to flex their muscle.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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