Lesotho's opposition parties have put an end to the fourteen-year rule of Phakalitha Mosisili by forging an uneasy coalition, aided by a large chuck of the kingdom's voters shifting support away from the incumbent's personality cult politics.
The change in part signals an increase in support to political parties that place policy above personality. Mosisili's newly formed Democratic Congress failed to win the 61 or more seats needed to form a government in the 120-seat parliament.
Though it won 48 seats, the most of any single party, the DC was outnumbered by the combined weight of the opposition. At the 2007 national election Mosisili, then leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) won 62 seats.
Of the former opposition parties the All Basotho Convention (ABC) won 30 seats, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) 26 seats, and the Basotho National Party (BNP) five seats.
They have signed a deal to form a coalition government, and formally announced their decision to the Independent Electoral Commission. The Popular Front for Democracy, which won three seats, is also backing the coalition.
ABC leader Tom Thabane will be prime minister and Mothetjoa Metsing, the leader of the LCD, will be deputy prime minister. Metsing took over as head of the LCD when Mosisili left the party to set up the Democratic Congress.
The 2.2 million Basotho of the tiny landlocked kingdom endure massive rates of unemployment, poverty and food insecurity. The United Nations estimates that 40 % of the population are "ultra-poor". The country has the world's third highest rates of HIV-AIDS, 23 % of the adult population, and the average life expectancy among the population is just 42 years.
Much of the country's developmental inertia stems from its long and ruinous history as a labour reserve for South Africa's mines, which depleted agricultural skills and practice in Lesotho. Its frosty relations with South Africa concerning cross-border movements of Basotho (see SAR Lesotho Country Profile) also disrupt the lives of the 40 000 or so Basotho who still have to use the border to go to work in South Africa.
It has tended to be the smaller parties, such as the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), that have sought to address these issues, while, in the past at least, the LCD under Mosisili has used them selectively and sporadically to stoke up support where it has appeared to wane.
This year's election campaign saw more overall emphasis on policies to tackle unemployment and poverty, and even to improve relations with South Africa over the border question. The PFD, for instance, attracted far more support than ever before for its robust manifesto on these issues.
Metsing's LCD constantly sought to corner Mosisili on policy matters, arguing that under him the LCD did little to deal with Lesotho's burgeoning social and economic problems. Mosisili meanwhile thundered that his leadership of the LCD was responsible for what social and economic policies were enacted, which was why voters should support him as head of the DC.
At the same time, there was much friction between the DC and LCD, including occasional violent clashes between their respective supporters attending election rallies. The LCD accused the DC of stealing its party property in some 19 constituencies; a claim that was supported by the Independent Electoral Commission. With less than two weeks to go before the ballot, the IEC ruled that the DC was not allowed to campaign in those constituencies. The DC retorted that it would ignore the ruling.
But while Mosisili paid more lip service than usual to definite political issues in his campaign, he resorted more to his tried and tested personal clout, which continues to overshadow the DC's meagre policy profile. His influence has long been rooted in the extensive web of patronage he commands. This permeates the political and business establishment and stretches far into the country's remotest rural constituencies.
He used this to ensure that his campaign received more TV coverage than any of the opposition parties, and he was able to dodge strictures by the Independent Electoral Commission to stop political parties advertising on state media.
At one stage in the campaign opposition leaders accused Mosisili of buying votes after he was seen distributing food and cash to people in Ha-Hoohlo, Thetsane and Stadium Area. The incidents provoked unctuously responses from the local media, as it is well known that in past the ruling party provided food hand-outs and infrastructure improvements to communities at election time, and freely used government resources and facilities to support their campaign logistics.
The factional standoff in the LCD had reached a point where any attempt at restoring party unity was impossible. Mosisili took stock of the state of factional warfare between his supporters and opponents and decided to wait until the last moment before striking.
His supporters, the so-called "Fire Eaters" faction, led by natural resources minister Monyane Moleketi, were eyeball to eyeball with the "Fire Extinguishers", led by Metsing, who was then communications minister. Metsing was also the secretary general of the LCD's executive committee, his powerbase.
None of the protagonists ever admitted to belonging to, let alone leading these factions, and for years there was a coy interplay of nods and winks between LCD leaders and the media over who "allegedly" led which faction and why. This served only to deposit another layer of smog across the already opaque goings on in the ruling party.
There seems to have been few actual differences of political substance between the two factions. The issue that pushed Metsing and his Fire Extinguishers into action was to get rid of Mosisili, who had repeatedly delayed stepping down after 14 years as party leader and was in Metsing's view obstructively unwilling to share power.
The LCD was supposed to hold a 'special conference' in January to deal with its wayward executive committee. Some 17 of the LCD's constituencies had called for this by expressing their lack of confidence in the executive committee, apparently at Mosisili's stealthy instigation. The conference was also intended to resolve the dispute, also rooted in the factional standoff, over the resignation in 2010 of LCD treasurer and executive committee member Popane Lebesa following his dismissal from cabinet by Mosisili.
In the end the LCD conference, set for 27-28 January, was called off amidst accusations from both sides of attempts to rig the outcome. A few days later Mosisili went on the offensive by firing Metsing from his post as communications minister, along with two other alleged "ring leaders" of the anti-Mosisili faction, Motloheloa Phooka, a minister in the PM's office, and Khotso Matla, assistant trade minister and editor of the LCD mouthpiece Mololi.
Sensing that the LCD split was now irreversible and fully out in the open, a number of opposition parties announced that they planned to table a motion of no confidence in Mosisili, and they declared that they wanted Metsing to take over. For a moment it looked as if Mosisili might be brought down. But the motion stalled. On 7 February Metsing publicly distanced himself from it, an apparent snub to the opposition but more likely a ploy by Metsing to keep his opponent guessing.
Mosisili, meanwhile, had been busy preparing to launch a new political party. It was common knowledge in the corridors of the National Assembly that Mosisili already had a constitution written up for his new party and that he was working overtime to ply LCD members of parliament with incentives to leave the LCD with him when the time was right.
On 28 February Mosisili launched his constitutional coup when he crossed the floor of the National Assembly together with 45 of the LCD's legislators. His new party, the DC, was declared to be the ruling party and a "vote of confidence", hastily tabled by Parliamentary Speaker and Mosisili supporter Ntlhoi Motsamai (See SAR Vol 30 No 6) inaugurated the new dispensation and the trouncing of the LCD, which was then reduced to 18 MPs and in the hands of Metsing. In the end the ruse appears to have alienated enough voters to hurt Mosisili and his new party. The LDC now commands 26 seats in the new parliament, against the new DC's 48.
Mosisili's pre-elections manoeuvres were not unheard of in Basotho electoral politics, and the Prime Minister had himself come to power through similar tricks carried out by his predecessor. Late Lesotho Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle broke away from the ruling Basotholand Congress Party in 1997 to found the LCD, which he installed as ruling party just before an election that year. The game worked that time, though not without consequences for Lesotho's stability. The LCD won the 2007 before Mokhehle stepped down and the LCD installed Mosisili as its leader and prime minister. But the 1997 election was dogged by accusations of irregularities, and the ensuing instability led to South African military intervention to defend Mosisili's new government against an army-led coup attempt.
But this time Mosisili's deft moves in the National Assembly generally failed to pay off at election time. In the end the DC was unable to draw the remainder of the LCD's constituencies to its side, and seems to have alienated a fair number of voters. The proportional representation allocation of seats, accounting for 40 of the National Assembly's 120 seats, increased the LCD's result by 14, reflecting its relatively strong standing among the electorate.
On 30 May, Mosisili tendered his resignation to King Letsie III. He will remain nominal head of government until the new one is sworn in.
The new parliament
Eighteen parties contested the election. Twelve made it to the National Assembly, eight of them due to the proportional representation allocation of 40 of the National Assembly's 120 seats.
Eighty seats were contested on the first past the post system operating in the same number of constituencies, with the following results:
Democratic Congress 41
All Basotho Convention 26
Lesotho Congress for Democracy 12
Popular Front for Democracy 1
With the proportional representation allocation of seats the final line-up is:
Democratic Congress 48
All Basotho Convention 30
Lesotho Congress for Democracy 26
Basotho National Party 5
Popular Front for Democracy 3
National Independent Party 2
Basotho Batho Democratic Party 1
Basotho Congress Party 1
Lesotho People's Congress 1
Marematlou Freedom Party 1
Lesotho Workers' Party 1
Basotho Democratic National Party 1
Of the 1 127 960 Basotho eligible to vote 551 726 went to the polls.