Has the DC committed political suicide?

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Professor Mafa Sejanamane

THE overriding reason for forming political parties to exist is to vie for power. In a democracy accession to power has a direct relation to winning elections on your own or in alliance with likeminded political parties.

Alliances and/or unions amongst political parties are based on the understanding that alone one is unlikely to succeed. In essence, alliances are a way of minimising weakness. It is probably as a result of their perceived electoral weaknesses; that the Democratic Congress (DC) and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), conceived and ultimately agreed on an alliance going to the 2017 elections. Both parties have been haemorrhaging support for some time, but the 2015 elections must have jolted them to paper over their differences in order to survive annihilation in the 2017 elections.

The challenge however must have been whether they should unite ahead of the elections, or tactically put their faith in an alliance ahead of the elections. They chose the latter. The formula for such an election, it now looks clear, was one where the smaller partner benefits more inordinately at the expense of the bigger one. This arrangement will have far-reaching consequences for the DC. The two parties agreed that the DC would field candidates in 54 constituencies, while the LCD would field candidates in 25 constituencies. The Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) would then be supported by both the DC and LCD in one constituency. Without proper analysis, this could be thought to be a tactical masterstroke, but it will be shown to be at best naive and at worst suicidal for the DC in the 2017 elections. This is more so in a one-vote-two ballot system that is used in Lesotho.

It must be clear that the issues facing the DC in the 2017 elections are largely the following:

  1. a) The split from the DC by a significant number of its members who formed the Alliance of Democrats (AD;
  2. b) The split from the LCD by an inordinately large number of its members who formed the Movement for Economic Change (MEC); and
  3. c) The fast growth of the All Basotho Convention (ABC). All these challenges have put the DC in a predicament which it attempted to ameliorate by forming an alliance. That alliance however seems to be not only an alliance of the weak, but also one which fast-tracks the demise of the DC. The only beneficiary of the alliance in a small way and for a short period is the LCD.

Understanding strengths of DC/LCD alliance

Projecting election results is a complicated exercise. This is why even the most sophisticated polling systems sometimes fail to accurately predict the outcome. The win by Donald Trump in the recent United States presidential elections shows how difficult a task predicting is. All conventional wisdom had predicted that he would lose the elections. In Lesotho, we do not have even a rudimentary system of polling yet. This means that we have to take an educated assessment based on a combination of observable enthusiasm and also contributions in public forums in order to make judgements. More often than not, these have tended to provide approximations of reality in the past. This means that observations plays an important role in studies of electoral support.

Our starting point in the analysis of the electoral support of the DC is accordingly the 2015 election results. But we are also cognisant of the fact that a lot has happened since then, as already indicated above.  This will necessarily have to be taken into consideration in assessing the potential electoral strength of any political party. If we are to be generous, it would seem to me that the AD could have taken away a minimum of 30 percent of the support from the DC.

This means that rather than grow, the DC has probably shrunk by about 30 percent. The LCD also could have lost more than 50 percent to the newly-formed MEC. But for the sake of consistency, its potential loss will be capped at 30 percent rather than a higher figure. This means that the election alliance of the two parties started on the wrong footing. They were trying to halt their decimation in the 2017 elections but their combined weakness may not have solved the problem. It could have, on the contrary, started the total dismantling of the parties after the elections as a result of the bickering on the strategy.

For the LCD, it could extend its life for a few more years; since it could benefit from the short-term swallowing of the DC. For both, the question is whether the post-election period will see them continuing as a united opposition or whether each will go its way after their project of attempting to stay in power fails.

In the 2015 elections, the DC had lost ground to the ABC in terms of constituencies. Out of the 80 constituencies, ABC had 40; DC had 37; LCD had two and the Basotho National Party (BNP) had one. It was in the proportional allocation part where the DC was able to move ahead of the ABC by one seat overall as a result of the 3 000 votes difference between the two. It is thus understandable that the two leading parties in the coalition sought to get together in order to counter their certain defeat in the 2017 elections. But without going into the decline of the two parties, let us consider whether their alliance strengthened the DC. My concern is with the DC and not the LCD because it is obvious that the latter is terminally in decline.

Using the 25 constituencies which will be contested by the LCD as an example, it becomes clear that the alliance does not help the DC at all but could jerk the LCD up a seat or two if all the DC supporters remain loyal to their party leader’s directive that they vote for the LCD.  The table below illustrates this.

 

 

Votes for ABC in 2015 Elections Votes for DC in 2015 Elections Votes for LCD in 2015 Elections
Mechechane 2487 1,681 1,652
Hololo 3088 2,310    427
Stadium Area 5293 2,353   476
Maseru Central 3143 1,173   279
Lithabaneng 5823 2,952   380
Abia 5918 1,195   189
Maama 4947 2,021   321
Qeme 4048 2,629   429
Mahobong 2449 2,210 3,501
Pela tsoeu 2370 2,410 1,085
Maputsoe 3432 1,806     390
Tsikoane 3374 2,143 1,489
Thabana Morena 881 1,472 3,167
Teya-Teyaneng 3930 933    644
Tsoana-Makhulo 3198 2,183 1,014
Thupa-Kubu 3946 2,450    509
Khubetsoana 5323 2,093    615
Berea 4221 2,520    328
Thaba-Phatsoa 3085 2437 1,170
Matlakeng 2319 1,300 1,350
Hlotse 4040 2,958 1,384
Likhetlane 3143 1,174    799
Peka 3959 2,008    544
Mosalemane 3201 2,383    716
Khafung 2744 1,337 2.103

 

The above table shows that the DC was relatively competitive in most of the northern constituencies, Maseru and Thabana Morena, which the LCD won. But the LCD has virtually collapsed in all the northern constituencies. The same situation is observable in Maseru and the southern constituencies except Thabana Morena. But Thabana Morena is a special case since it’s the stronghold of Selibe Mochoboroane who has since left the LCD to form the MEC. Disregarding the voters from the DC who have gone with the AD; and also disregarding the strong growth of the ABC; it is obvious that the DC was competitive and could have had expectations of success in some of the constituencies. This arrangement has however meant that it has thrown away all the chances of competing in the 2017 elections. Throwing away 25 constituencies necessarily means that the DC has lost the race even before it began.

In the race for constituencies, the DC was already behind the ABC from the 2015 elections. It has now thrown away its chances even in Pela T’soeu which it had won. But more significantly, the DC has thrown away its proportional representation numbers, where it had edged the ABC in the last elections. Thus the DC has not only thrown away 25 constituencies before the elections started, but it has also ensured that its share of the proportional representation list will be significantly smaller. The question that needs to be dealt with is what does the DC gain out of this arrangement? More significantly, what does the LCD bring to the party so to say?

Implications of the alliance for the DC

In any negotiations, there can be several outcomes. We can have a mutually beneficial outcome; we can also have winners and losers. Surrender negotiations are however different. While in the first two situations, the negotiations themselves produce the outcome; in surrender negotiations, the victors in war dictate how the loser should behave and modalities of the surrender.

An analysis of the agreement between the DC and the LCD is akin to the surrender negotiations. They are so one-sided that it would be impossible to conceive of two parties trying to get a mutually-acceptable outcome. The overall winner is the LCD, while the DC accepted the terms of the negotiations.

In the constituencies which the DC has fielded candidates for the 2017 elections, there is virtually nothing that the LCD will contribute. In Mokhotlong and the southern districts, the DC will virtually be on its own. The LCD has virtually no presence there hence it will not strengthen the DC. On the contrary, the impact of both the AD and MEC will ensure that the DC has even fewer constituencies and proportional representation representatives. The consequences of this will most likely be devastating for the DC.

After the elections, there is most likely going to be discord and recriminations within the DC when the realisation comes to the fore that the party was duped to accept an alliance which was meant to strengthen it but in reality was likely to destroy it. Indeed, if there was genuineness about the arrangement, the parties could have merged and contested elections as a single party rather than to allow a weaker party to dictate the terms of the alliance. It is clear that the LCD negotiated ways to survive, while the DC was either intimidated into agreeing or was dictated to as a result of the mutual fear of the two to lose elections and to face the consequences of the misdeeds of their rule since 2015. Whichever way one looks at it, the situation is dim for the DC.

Having surrendered its electoral support to the LCD for no apparent benefit, the DC will almost certainly split or be swallowed by the LCD as a result of the above alliance. Questions will be asked why the alliance was reached and who will lead such an alliance. It was easy to paper over the discomfort of some in the DC on the direction and role of the party in some of the challenges facing the government, when the two parties were in a coalition. If they lose the elections, as seems most certain, the struggle for power will be intense. The question ultimately is whether the DC will emerge victorious, or whether the mantle of leadership will be passed on to Mothetjoa Metsing of the LCD.

Conclusion

It is not often that a political party surrenders its support base to another. For the DC, this is exactly what has happened. A much smaller party has taken over not only the constituency votes of the bigger one, but has also gone a long way to borrow the votes of the bigger one to enhance its proportional representation numbers. This is however dependent on whether the grumble within the DC members about the arrangement will not lead to a rebellion against the leadership at the polls.

The ostensible reason for the alliance was to block the opposition from winning the elections, but the prognosis is not good. The split of both the AD from the DC and the split of the MEC from the LCD indicate that unity of the weak does not make them any stronger.  For the LCD, the MEC is likely to deprive it of the votes throughout the country but particularly in the south.

In the circumstances, it is clear that the DC is going to lose the elections and worse still it will either split or be swallowed by a much smaller LCD after the elections. A reconfiguration of Lesotho politics is about to begin. 

This article was originally published on Prof Sejanamane’s blog lesothoanalysis.com

 

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