MASERU — On the day the people of Sebapala, Mpharane and Hololo were expected to cast their ballots in droves they largely stayed at home.
The result was a landslide victory for the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in elections that were marked by low voter turnout. The numbers vividly tell the story.
Only a measly 12 725 of the 30 592 registered voters in the three constituencies cast their ballots on Saturday.
That amounts to a turnout of 41 percent of registered voters. Over 17 000 stayed away from the polls.
In the 2007 general elections almost half of the 28 951 registered voters in these three constituencies cast their votes.
Conspiracy theories abound as opposition politicians try to explain why people shied away from Saturday’s polls.
The All Basotho Convention (ABC) alleges that an inter-school sports day organised to coincide with the polling day robbed them of the young voters who they believe could have made a difference in Hololo constituency.
The party also alleges subtle intimidation by the ruling party.
ABC leader Tom Thabane queries why the opposition numbers have remained at 2007 levels “after all the hard work that I have put in”.
He alleges that the results could have been “computer managed”.
Yet there might be problems in these explanations.
First the ABC has not proven, and no independent survey is yet to, that it indeed holds sway among the youths in the rural areas.
And even if it does have a large following among the youth the party has not proven that it did enough to get the youths to vote first before they went for the games.
The games started at 9am, two hours after the polls had opened at 7am.
A young voter with enough conviction to vote would have cast his ballot before attending the games.
But even then their explanation only possibly applies to Hololo because there were no such games in Sebapala and Mpharane where the ABC was thumped.
Secondly, the opposition is yet to bring concrete evidence of the “subtle intimidation” they claim to have been used by the ruling party.
Thirdly, the allegation that the results were “computer managed” seems to conveniently forget that opposition representatives were present when the votes were counted, verified and announced.
Opposition electoral representatives also signed off the final results.
Independent observers suggest that perhaps the opposition did not do enough to convince the electorate to vote.
They say the opposition has not convinced the electorate that they are a viable option to the ruling party.
Others say low voter turnout has always been the norm in by-elections.
The trends in previous by-elections seem to support this explanation.
But what reasons do the people in Sebapala, Mpharane and Hololo give for staying away from Saturday’s polls?
Well, unlike the conspiracy theories that the opposition proffers and the explanations that political analysts offer, their reasons for not voting are not very varied.
Their responses indicate overwhelming fatigue among the voters, especially the youths.
For years they have voted but their miserable living conditions have not changed, they say.
“They have made promises that they have not kept,” said Solomon Motsomi, a 25-year-old man from Pontseng village in Sebapala.
“Our first representative in the 1993 parliament was Tefo Mabote (from the Basutoland Congress Party) who was not even living in this constituency.
“Although I was a small boy then, I can say with certainty that he did not bring any developments in this constituency.”
Mabote’s successor Liau Ranooe also failed to pull Sebapala out of the clutches of poverty.
“So did the LCD’s Matseliso Monyakane. She was just like her predecessors,” Motsomi said.
Many youths in the constituency shared Motsomi’s sentiments.
The presiding officer in Ha-Nkuebe polling division, ’Mamonyane Masia, told the Lesotho Times that “only a few youths cast their votes” hours after the polling stations had opened.
“So far we see the elderly coming to vote. The youth don’t even pass near this polling centre. Only a few of them have voted,” Masia said.
In Hololo young voters were more interested in the schools sporting event than casting their votes.
“I don’t see any importance in elections,” said a 19-year-old Lebohang Moremoholo who went to the games instead of the polling station.
“I have seen my parents supporting political parties all their lives but nothing has come out of it,” he said.
It’s not that the youths have ceased to care about who is ruling them but that those that aspire to be in government have not given them enough reasons to vote. The youths in Mpharane, Sebapala and Hololo still care about hospitals and roads. And they badly need jobs.
Their attitude is that although the government has failed to provide these basics the opposition still does not inspire confidence.
So on a day the youth voters stayed at home the older voters, the very core of LCD support, prevailed.
That is probably what made the difference between the losers and the winners in the by-elections.
The LCD’s candidate in Sebapala, Kabelo Mafura, won 81.7 percent of the vote with 3 245 people votes out of the 10 515 registered voters in the constituency.
The ABC’s candidate, Lehlohonolo Namole, who was expected to be a fierce contender, got only 313 votes.
Four other parties that participated in the by-election shared 412 votes. Only 38.55 percent of registered voters cast their ballots.
In Mpharane, the LCD’s Matebele Pakela received 56.5 percent of the votes cast while the ABC’s Khobatha Pitso got 25.1 percent.
Only 4 303 of the 9 319 registered voters bothered to vote.
The LCD’s young candidate, Teboho Lets’ela, scooped 2 338 (55.1 percent) votes while the ABC’s Mmamahele Radebe got 1 273 (30.1 percent). The voter turnout was 40.60 percent.