ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane has stepped up efforts to win over elderly voters ahead of the 3 June 2017 parliamentary poll by promising to increase old age pensions from M580 to M800 if elected into government.
Elderly voters are an important bloc in Lesotho’s elections because they are more likely to go to the polls than their younger counterparts.
Basotho go to the polls on 3 June 2017 after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s seven-party coalition government was toppled in a parliamentary no-confidence vote engineered by a four party opposition coalition on 1 March 2017.
With political parties in excess of 25 vying for the hearts and minds of Basotho ahead of the watershed election, elderly voters are a site of contestation for parties across the political divide.
Dr Mosisili has also zoned in on elderly voters, saying he was exploring ways of improving the welfare of senior citizens including increasing their monthly pensions.
The Democratic Congress leader also promised to issue elderly people cards that would exempt them from paying when boarding public transport.
Dr Mosisili said transport operators would be reimbursed after making claims from the government using the cards.
In keeping with the concerted wooing of elderly voters by politicians ahead of the election, Dr Thabane promised to increase old age pensions from M580 to M800 during a rally held in Quthing earlier this week.
The rally was attended by a significant number of elderly people, with one of the tents erected for the event packed with senior citizens from constituencies in Quthing.
During his address, Dr Thabane inquired from the elderly people about their needs and expectations from the next government. Among the issues they raised was their old age pensions which they said were inadequate in meeting their very basic needs.
The senior citizens explained that the M20 increase of the pensions to M580 by the government last year was “similar to doing nothing” given the high cost of living.
Dr Thabane, whose tripartite coalition government increased the old age pensions by M100 to M500 before collapsing in 2014, said he would raise it again to M800 if voted into power.
The ABC leader, who turns 78 later this month, said he empathised with the senior citizens’ plight since some of them were his age mates, while others were younger or older.
“If you elect me into government, I will increase that money to M800,” Dr Thabane said.
“I will instruct the minister in charge to work hard to ensure that you earn a decent pension. If the minister refuses to do that I will fire him or her.”
Elderly people, he said, deserved to be treated with respect by politicians and the government.
“You should not allow any politician to treat you as second class citizens,” the former premier stated.
“Some politicians are in the habit of humiliating the elderly, saying their legs are worn out due to old age. I fail to understand why they would say such hurtful words.
“I am always amazed by the way the elderly cheer for a person who humiliates you.”
He urged the gathering to be resolute in casting their votes on election day and not be discouraged by long lines.
“Your vote counts, so make sure you make it to the polling stations on the election day. Be patient enough to wait in long lines until your time comes to vote.
“If you have to travel a long distance to the polling stations, bring a lunchbox so you have something to eat while waiting to vote.”
Dr Thabane also urged the supporters to abstain from drinking alcohol on election day.
“To you men, I urge you to avoid drinking before casting your vote. After voting, you can drink all you want. But remember to go home when you are drunk.”
He also appealed to the parliamentary candidates to work for the people if elected into the National Assembly.