New party dynamics to influence polls

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Pascalinah Kabi

POLITICAL parties have been warned not to read too much into their performances in past elections as the upcoming June polls are likely to be determined by the new dynamics which are currently at play and shaping the country’s political landscape.

Political analyst, Sofonea Shale this week delivered the warning in an interview with the Lesotho Times ahead of the snap elections on 3 June 2017.

The elections, the third Lesotho is holding in five years, were announced by King Letsie III in the aftermath of the opposition’s no confidence vote which toppled the seven parties coalition government led by Prime Minister Phakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress (DC) party on 1 March.

The country has witnessed changes to its political landscape since the last elections in 2015, with splits in the major parties which gave birth to new players including the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Truth Reconciliation Unity (TRU) and Movement for Economic Change (MEC).

Former DC deputy leader, Monyane Moleleki broke away to form the AD while former All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader, Tlali Khasu left to form the TRU.

Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) was not spared as former secretary general Selibe Mochoboroane also left to form the Movement for Economic Change (MEC).

While on the face of it, this would be taken to suggest that the affected parties could be weakened, Mr Shale said the reality was far more complex and the splits could actually have greater impact on the performance of all parties in the polls.

He noted that while the parties suffered splits, they also took the opportunity to forge alliances and convergences which could determine the outcome of the elections.

“Although we saw the divisions that gave birth to new parties, we also witnessed convergences,” Mr Shale said, adding, “For example, when DC split, we saw members of the splinter (AD) party drift towards Ntate Thomas Thabane (leader of the ABC) and his allies”.

Mr Shale also argued that by the same token, TRU drifted in the direction of the DC and its allies.

“Fierce competition will result from these political dynamics.

“If you expect that the DC split that gave birth to AD might have cost the DC support, you must also appreciate that the DC is not the only victim because the AD is also reaching out and attracting members from other political parties,” Mr Shale said.

He said that in the same vein, the establishment of MEC as a breakaway from the LCD would not only affect the latter because MEC was also fishing from the pool of other parties including those that were currently in the opposition.

He also said the DC-LCD convergence which was formalised in an electoral pact could also have a huge bearing on the outcome of the polls.

In terms of the electoral agreement, the parties will field one candidate for each of the country’s 80 constituencies.

The agreement, which also includes the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), is meant to avoid vote splitting by the congress parties.

Under the agreement, the DC will contest in 54 constituencies while the LCD was allocated 25.

The parties will also vote for PFD leader, Lekhetho Rakuoane, in his Qalo stronghold in Butha-Buthe.

Mr Shale however, said the success of the alliance depended on its acceptance by the grassroots of the DC and LCD supporters.

“So if the DC/LCD pact is accepted by DC followers, this will boost LCD performance in the (eastern) region it once dominated.

“However, ABC will still win several constituencies so the real contest in this region will be between ABC and LCD and if the DC followers vote for LCD that will boost its performance.”

Mr Shale also zeroed in on specific individual constituencies where there was the likelihood of fierce competition including Matsieng #45 which was narrowly won in 2015 by the then DC candidate Mokhele Moletsane who posted 3594 votes followed by the ABC’s Nthabiseng Makoae who polled 3489 votes.

Mr Shale noted that both parties had since been affected by splits although the DC could be affected the most because the incumbent had become an influential member in the AD.

He said this also presented the ABC to win back the constituency, adding that TRU’s failure to take off might not have hurt the ABC as much as the AD could hurt the DC.

He however, said the outcome was not a forgone conclusion since parties like MEC and the Democratic Party of Lesotho were potentially great spoilers because they were attracting members from different parties.

“Makhaleng #46 is another interesting case as we saw Sekola Lepota join the ABC from the DC. He amassed many votes in the 2015 elections and therefore he could help the ABC to perform well in this constituency.

“On the other hand, DC will be represented by an experienced Mootsi Lehata who won the constituency under harsh conditions in 2015 when many people thought he was going to lose.”

Mr Shale added that Mr Lehata could well have an upper hand owing to having more resources at his disposal as the Minister of Human Rights, Law and Constitutional Affairs in the outgoing government.

On the other hand, Mr Shale said the ABC remained very strong in the southern region, especially in the Mafeteng and Thabana-Morena constituencies despite Mr Mochoboroane winning the latter constituency.

“Understandably, LCD would want to take this constituency away from Mr Mochoboroane but the ABC could capitalise (on the LCD split which gave birth to MEC).”

Mr Shale said Mafeteng was another interesting scenario as it pitted the ABC’s Temeki Tšolo against Hlalele Letšaba who he defeated by 3062 votes to 2548 votes in 2015.

He said it was highly likely that Mr Letšaba has used his subsequent appointment as Mafeteng District Administrator to lay the groundwork for his current election campaign.

“In Mohale’s Hoek, the DC could be boosted by the LCD to put up a good showing against the ABC. There might also be fierce competition between the BNP and DC in Mount Moorosi.

“Machache (currently held by Mr Moleleki) is another interesting case and from the look of things, it would seem the DC has surrendered as it doesn’t have a vibrant activism in the area.”

He said the constituency was more likely to be a battle ground between the AD and ABC, the competition between the two parties was likely to be watered down by their relationship and cooperation at national level which was reflected in the successful no confidence vote which toppled the government. He said ABC supporters could vote for Mr Moleleki.

“So when all is said and done, the outcome of the elections will also depend on the events that have taken place after the 2015 elections,” he said.

He also expressed concern over the country’s political culture that was characterised by mutual antagonism between ruling parties and the opposition.

“Lesotho’s politics are very rough and there is a violent and unhealthy relationship between government and opposition.

“Ntate Thabane spent most of his time in South Africa after he fled the country and there will be a lot of sympathy votes for him.

“However, what worries me most is the post 3 June scenario because we have seen that political alliances lack tolerance and this will make it difficult for us to continue with the reform agenda.”

He said the parties should take a deliberate decision to exercise political tolerance.

 

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