MASERU — Eleven star rallies in six months — that’s how aggressively the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party had campaigned in the by-elections in Hololo, Mpharane and Sebapala.
On the campaign trail that began last December ABC leader Tom Thabane visited Hololo five times and was in Mpharane four times.
He went to Sebapala twice.
Still the results announced on Monday showed that his efforts had not swayed the rural folks from the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party.
For all Thabane’s rallies the ABC numbers in the three constituencies only grew by 11 votes from the 2007 general election numbers.
That’s how staggering the ABC defeat was in Saturday’s by-elections.
In Mpharane the ABC got three more votes than what it got in the 2007 election.
In Hololo they added 158 votes while in Sebapala they went down by 144 votes.
Though marred by low voter turnout the polls still delivered an emphatic victory for the LCD.
A shocked Thabane this week tried to explain away the defeat with allegations of “voter manipulation” and rigging.
Those allegations have been made before but they have never improved the opposition’s waning fortunes in rural constituencies.
As the opposition contemplates its next move after the defeat it’s clear that they had better first understand what makes the LCD tick in rural areas.
Only then can they dislodge the ruling party from its higher pedestal in the rural areas.
The numbers show that it won’t be an easy mission.
The LCD cruised to victory with 81.7 percent of the vote in Sebapala, 55.2 percent in Hololo and 56.5 percent in Mpharane.
Analysts say this trend might continue unless the opposition finds new strategies to deal with the LCD’s grip on the rural electorate.
Seroala Tsoeu-Ntokoane from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the National University of Lesotho says the LCD’s overwhelming victory is an indication of a party that has become politically dominant.
“At the basic level, LCD prevails in these contests because everyone likes winners, no matter the principle,” Tsoeu-Ntokoane said.
“LCD is well resourced, better organised and most importantly has access to the resources of the state.”
Motlamelle Kapa, a political analyst with the National University of Lesotho, said the reason for the LCD’s dominance in rural constituencies lies in the lack of political education that he says is prevalent among rural voters.
Kapa argues that the LCD would possibly lose the elections if “voters dared to look into its development policies and programmes”.
But he warns this is unlikely to happen because the people don’t have the skills to analyse policies.
“Voters just consider the party identification when they go for elections. They do not look into the policies and programmes.
“They have little knowledge. That is why LCD is continuing to win elections. It would take years for the opposition to win the elections,” Kapa said.
The ruling party, Kapa explained, has also used the state radio stations to canvass for support.
Radio Lesotho and Lesotho Television have the broadest coverage than any other media in the country.
They both reach even the remotest rural areas and are mostly accessed by the ruling party supporters, Kapa said.
“It is through these platforms that the LCD manages to reach the rural people and tell them about its policies. People are made to believe that the policies and programmes are good for them even when they are not.”
This strategy has not worked in urban areas where the electorate is more enlightened and expects more from government policies.
In the three constituencies where unemployment is rife, the government’s old age pension is a main source of income to many families.
There are also government-controlled poverty alleviation programmes which provide temporary employment in roads repairing, dam building, tree planting and similar projects.
But there are pitfalls in attributing the LCD’s election victory to these policies alone.
The assessment does do not give credit to the LCD’s organisational strength as a party.
Of all the political parties in the country, the LCD is arguably the most organised at grassroots levels.
That makes it easier for them to pursue voters and membership.
The other political parties lack this structure.
Also, the assessment assumes that the opposition is only a victim of external forces rather than those of its own making.
Yet to a large extent this is what has bogged down the opposition, especially the ABC which has so far failed to get new voters to add to those that it had in 2007 when its momentum was probably at its peak.
It would seem the ABC has failed to harness people’s perceived frustration with lack of development and rampant poverty.
The ABC has also failed to manage its internal disputes especially those related to primary elections.
This was evident when earlier this year Thabane “imposed” Mmamahele Radebe as the candidate for Hololo constituency, a move which forced Motseki Lengeta who was already a runner, to leave the opposition party.
Lengeta broke away to stand as an independent candidate, only to return to the ABC a week before the by-elections.
This is not the first time that decisions by the ABC executive committee caused confusion and in some instances defections from the party.
In the run-up to the 2007 national election the ABC tried to impose the incumbent chairperson, Molobeli Soulo, on the Lithoteng constituency.
The Lithoteng MP, Eliabe Mokhanoi, sought a High Court order for him to stand under the ABC flag, arguing that he was supported by the people while Soulo was supported by the party’s executive committee.
Soulo eventually stood as an independent candidate under the symbol of a hut and lost the election.
He is in parliament through the proportional representation system.
Mokhanoi has since defected from the ABC to join Senkatana Party led by Mokhotlong MP Lehlohonolo Ts’ehlana who also broke away from the ABC after years of disagreement with Thabane.
The Maputsoe MP, Nkhets’e Monyalotsa, who won the constituency under the ABC banner, had a similar experience when the executive committee opposed his candidature.
Monyalotsa also got a court order to be the ABC candidate in the constituency.
He has since crossed the floor to join the ruling LCD decrying Thabane’s tyranny.
This continued internal strife gives the impression that the ABC is not well organised.
But all is not lost for the ABC and other opposition parties.
With two years to go to the next general elections the party could re-organise to form a formidable force.
This however depends largely on their willingness to change their tactics which have so far proven ineffective.