Alliance split weakens struggle for democracy

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MASERU — The dramatic split of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party and the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) alliance could leave the opposition severely weakened and seriously derail the fight for democracy in the country, analysts have said.

The split could deliver a telling blow to opposition forces that have struggled to make an impact on Lesotho’s political scene, according to analysts.

The main opposition ABC party and LWP ended their tempestuous “marriage of convenience” last Thursday after the two parties failed to agree on the way forward for the troubled alliance.

The alliance gave the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party a run for its money in the 2007 general elections winning a total 27 seats in the polls.

The ruling party, which had also formed an alliance with the National Independent Party (NIP), however prevailed at the polls after winning a total 83 seats.

But since the formation of the ABC/LWP the electoral pact, the alliance had been weighed down by serious internal squabbles.

Observers said ABC leader Thomas Thabane and his LWP counterpart, Macaefa Billy, were involved in a bitter turf war for influence within the alliance.

The split could dent the fight for democracy in Lesotho, analysts warned this week.

“When alliances die, it undermines democracy and weakens the strength of opposition parties,” Lira Theko, president of the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, a civic group that promotes democracy.

Motlamelle Kapa, a political science lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) said the alliance was fraught with problems right from the onset.

Kapa said there appeared to be no ideological glue to bind Lesotho’s opposition parties apart from the need to fight elections as a single united force.

“When elections have passed it is obvious there will be nothing left binding them. The collapse of the ABC/LWP alliance is a reflection of what happens in Lesotho’s political parties,” Kapa said.

“The alliance could never have been sustainable because it was entered into solely for the purpose of elections,” said Kapa, the author of the seminal work, The Politics of Coalition Formation and Democracy in Lesotho.

“The whole basis of alliance formation in Lesotho was to fight elections. Lesotho’s politics are not based on ideological orientation,” Kapa said.

He said the split between the ABC and LWP had been lurking in the shadows for a while and was not much of a shock.

The executive dean of the College of Law at the University of South Africa, Nqosa Mahao, said it had become clear over the years that Thabane and Billy could not work together.

“Thabane and Billy are two personalities that could never work well together,” Mahao said.

The Unisa lecturer said he doubted the veracity of arguments proffered by Thabane to justify the split.

Thabane said former Botswana president and Sadc envoy to Lesotho, Sir Ketumile Masire, had denounced the electoral pacts and “we decided to uphold his recommendations”.

Masire said the electoral pacts violated the Mixed Member Proportional representation electoral model.

But Mahao said Thabane’s reading of the matter was flawed.

“The problem is not the legality (of the alliance). There are fundamental political problems between the ABC and LWP,” Mahao said.

“The alliance is not illegal in law. The constitution allows for any form of alliances. The alliance’s illegality was in respect of the allocation of seats under the MMP model.”

Mahao attributed the split more to a personality clash “than the reasons they are giving”.

He said the ABC will struggle to have an impact on Lesotho’s political scene in the coming general elections in 2012.

“ABC only garnered votes in 2007 because of two constituencies — the urban middle class and urban working class,” Mahao said.

“If the working class voted for the ABC because of the alliance, then chances are that the party will also lose that support.”

Mahao said the ABC/LWP alliance had blown a golden opportunity to consolidate and strengthen the fight for democracy over the past three years by haggling over the proportional representation seats.

“The alliance spent the past three years fighting for PR seats instead of addressing fundamental social issues and people’s basic needs,” Mahao said.

“This was the first time that there was a significant number of opposition MPs in parliament. But they failed to take advantage and address national issues.”

Kapa said it was a bit unrealistic for the ABC to hope to form coalitions with trade unions as had been suggested because “we do not have a strong workforce and a strong working class”.

“The workers that the ABC hopes to work with have their own political parties which they support,” Kapa said.

The analysts say the opposition was making a strategic mistake by concentrating on internal squabbles while the LCD galvanised its supporters for the local government elections in 2011 and general elections a year later.

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