THE town of Hlotse, in Leribe district, was brought to a standstill this past Sunday when three political parties held their campaign rallies around the same area ahead of the 3 June 2017 national assembly elections.
The main opposition party, All Basotho Convention (ABC), held its rally a few kilometres from its rival and co-ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), while the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) was also not very far from the two.
Although there was no direct confrontation by supporters of the parties witnessed by the Lesotho Times crew during the rallies, the traffic jams brought Hlotse to a standstill for hours, particularly both before the rallies started and when they ended.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Political and Economic Adviser, Fako Likoti, was among the thousands who attended the LCD rally and observed the other rallies.
In this wide-ranging interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane speaks to Dr Likoti — who is also an activist in the Dr Mosisili-led Democratic Congress (DC) – speaks about the election campaign period and other related issues.
LT: What was your observation of the three rallies in Hlotse?
Likoti: From where we were placed, the LCD rally was more conspicuous as opposed to those of the ABC and PFD. I should also mention that the LCD rally was extremely well attended. When you convene a rally, you have to survey the place. The place should be central and conspicuous. It should be a place where it can send a political message. If you look at the PFD, the size of their rally was okay for a party that normally wins one constituency. It consistently keeps having one or two members of parliament. But the location was not properly thought. The location was further inside the village. It was not where it could be seen by most people. In that sense, the location was not proper. The issue of location is very key in politics. Location sells you.
The ABC rally was at the bigger airport space. That space is bigger to accommodate a lot of followers and a lot of parking space for the vehicles. However, the limitation with that rally was the surrounding trees. So everybody who was there was obscured. As a result, the political message was not there. There was a church that had a tent nearby. People from two roads leading to Butha-Buthe could see the church gathering and the tent better than they could see the rally of the ABC. I was at the hilltop, where the LCD rally was held. And from where I was, I could see vehicles at the ABC rally and not the people, not because people were not there, but because they were obscured. This means the supporters of the DC/LCD alliance could also not see the ABC rally and feel threatened by its massiveness, if ever it was massive. As a result, the political message was constrained. Whatever political message the ABC had, it was not communicated outside the rally itself.
LT: What do you make of the fact that some of these parties brought a large number of supporters from Maseru to Hlotse thereby intensifying the traffic jam while they could be trying to give an impression attendance was massive at their own rallies?
Likoti: That is not a good strategy. Some parties bring people from far away areas to rallies that are scheduled in one certain constituency. In this case, we are talking about people who were ferried in trucks, buses and taxis from Maseru to Leribe just for their rallies to appear massive. That is not a good message. Afterwards, you see the traffic jams. Some even use alcohol excessively. I can tell you that everybody at the LCD rally wanted to leave early before the traffic jam. Even in the LCD rally, there were people who were brought to the rally from outside the constituencies. But those people came from the northern constituencies like Butha-Buthe and maybe Berea, which are relatively near to from Leribe. And it was not in the much larger scale of the ABC rally. The ABC brought hundreds of people from Maseru.
LT: How significant is it for the parties to hold large rallies around this time when election day is around the corner?
Likoti: A political rally is a mobilisation tool. It says to your opponents and ordinary people who are doubtful and uncertain that your political party is worth their consideration. Sometimes, the message that a political rally sends is that the party has already won elections even before the election day, so why should you be voting for other parties when you can join the winning party. That is why it is important to choose the location carefully.
LT: Would you be able to analyse the three rallies in terms of the content of their messages to the people of Leribe?
Likoti: I cannot compare the contents because I only attended the LCD rally. What I can say is that the LCD message was twofold. One was that people should be weary of parties that attacked the monarchy. Secondly, that people should be weary of people who are threatening to dissolve the army after elections. That is not only going to bring chaos in the security sector, but it is also going to bring joblessness of so many people. These parties which are vowing to dissolve the army are actually saying they are going to bring chaos and anarchy in the country. There are also parties which are threatening to remove the King. The monarchy is the thread that holds Basotho together. Once you start disparaging the monarchy, you are actually attacking the fabric of the Basotho nation. That was the message from the LCD. I don’t know the message that was passed by ABC and PFD.
LT: Hlotse came to a standstill because of the rallies that were held at the same time closely to each other. Is this allowed? What is your opinion?
Likoti: Actually, when you look at the electoral law, it does not allow political parties to hold rallies at close proximity as seen from those three parties. They should not have been that close to each other. They should at least be between two and five kilometres apart. The LCD and ABC rallies were not even one kilometre from the other. Even the PFD rally was probably less than 500 meters away from the two. I think this was due to the hype of electioneering.
LT: There were no reported altercations between supporters of the parties. What do you make of that?
Likoti: It means there is a lot of stability and peace in Lesotho. You didn’t hear or see any people attacking each other because of the rallies. The myth and rhetoric that Lesotho is unstable and in a fighting mode were actually rubbished by the holding of the rallies in close proximity.
LT: Your party, DC, delayed signing a pledge to accept the election outcome initiated by the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL). What was the reason for this?
Likoti: We have signed the pledge. That is what is important. The only thing is that the pledge unfortunately came at the wrong time. Most of the DC signatories were out in the countryside when the pledge was supposed to be signed. The leader of the party, Ntate Mosisili, was not there and the deputy leader of the party (Mathibeli Mokhothu) was also not there. But the pledge was signed this week by Ntate Mokhothu because of his proximity to Maseru now. He manages the Maseru area at the moment while the leader is out conducting rallies out in the countryside.
LT: What about rumours that the pre-polls alliance between the DC and LCD is going to result in the formation of one party called the United Congress Movement (UCM) after elections, and that Dr Mosisili is going to retire and leave Mr Metsing in charge of the party?
Likoti: This rumour has been disseminated by people who see a bleak future for their parties after the 3 June 2017 elections. It is not being propagated by disgruntled DC supporters, but by members of other parties. They see the LCD and DC as their enemies. Frankly, the ABC, BNP (Basotho National Party) and AD (Alliance of Democrats) supporters have a vendetta against Ntate Metsing. To them, anything that Ntate Metsing touches turns to dust. They are still pained by the fact that Ntate Metsing broke away from the previous tripartite coalition government led by ABC leader Ntate Thomas Thabane. They don’t see the association of Ntate Metsing and Ntate Mosisili in a good light. What you see now in the congress movement is what we call a huge realignment, as has been exemplified by the Leribe rally. The LCD and DC are going back home. They have the same programmes and same ideologies. However, this does not mean that the LCD or DC is going to eventually disappear. The DC has its own structures, and so does the LCD. They are both separately registered parties. These parties have only agreed to form the government together. Nowhere have they said they are going to become one party. It is preposterous to say these parties are going to be one party. What is most interesting is that this propaganda clearly shows that the opposition has conceded already that the congress alliance is going to emerge victorious after 3 June 2017. The fact that they are saying Ntate Mosisili is going to retire and leave Ntate Metsing in power is a clear sign they have conceded defeat already. There is nothing like this UCM. This is just a coalition of two parties which have the same roots, same outlook and same policies.
LT: There is some evident tension between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the government of Lesotho in relation to the former’s decision on 18 March 2017 to deploy officials to monitor the situation during elections. The tension has been palpable in the letters between SADC and Dr Mosisili. What is your view?
Likoti: I don’t see any tension myself. Ntate (Botswana President Ian) Khama is explicitly saying that if Ntate Mosisili feels that SADC intervention exceeded the sovereignty boundaries, they would respect Lesotho’s view as principled by the SADC itself. The principal agreement in the formation of SADC says we have to respect our sovereign equality as member states. It is only a member state that will raise its hand and wave the flag to say no when it feels like SADC or other states are getting closer to infringing that principle. Ntate Khama is simply saying if Lesotho feels like we are interfering with her sovereignty, we can only hold back our horses. That is not tension. The principle of sovereign equality is a fundamental framework of the agreement of SADC member states. It is only proper for Lesotho to raise the flag where it feels its sovereignty is infringed. We are not fighting with SADC and Botswana is definitely not fighting with us.