16 June 2017

Lesotho: Slim Chance of 1998 Unrest Repeat - Analysts

Photo: Lesotho Times
Voters braced the chilly morning weather to vote at Malumeng Primary School, in Thabana-Morena constituency.
analysis

AMID fears of a repeat of the riots that followed the 1998 general elections, analysts say they are unlikely given that most Basotho have accepted the results of the 3 June 2017 snap polls.

The analysts also point to the firm stance taken by South Africa in particular and the Southern African Community Development (SADC) in general of not tolerating coup in Lesotho.

The fears come in the wake of claims by the outgoing seven-party government that there was "damning and tangible evidence" of voting irregularities in the recent National Assembly polls following their electoral defeat.

The outgoing governing coalition consists of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Democratic Congress (DC), his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party, Lesotho People's Congress and Popular Front for Democracy.

The elections were prompted by the passing of a parliamentary no-confidence vote on the seven-party coalition on 1 March 2015. The no-confidence vote was engineered by the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) which have since cobbled up their 63 seats to form the next government.

For their part, the outgoing governing parties could only muster 47 seats combined, which was well short of the 61-seat threshold required to form government in the 120-seat National Assembly.

On behalf of the seven parties, Mr Metsing said in a press conference held last Friday that while they accepted the outcome of the elections, there was "damning and tangible evidence" of voting irregularities, although he did not elaborate.

He claimed that some voters were given a chance to register for the elections days after the stipulated deadline, while some of the people's names had been captured with a pen and yet they had managed to vote.

Mr Metsing also claimed that some voters were transferred from their constituencies and voting centres to vote twice "and even thrice because their names appeared more than once in different lists".

"In our view, elections are a pillar of democracy. And in a situation where there is fraud in the electoral lists, there is simply no way the results would reflect the will of the people or be democratic," the outgoing deputy premier said, adding that the outgoing government wanted the matter to be "resolved" with a forensic audit of the voters' roll before the end of this month.

Mr Metsing also called for a government of unity (GNU) as a way of bringing about lasting political stability in the country.

"There is no need for the removal of the existing government in office as we all agree that in order for Lesotho to be stable, there is a need for a government of national unity," he said.

However, the ABC, AD, BNP and RCL have since dismissed the call for a GNU as a ploy by the departing regime to claw back power after losing elections.

The four parties also scoffed at the outgoing government's allegations of voting irregularities, saying they should accept defeat and not "come up with antics to sow seeds of distrust" in the country's electoral system.

Analysts who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week said a repeat of the 1998 post-elections riots was unlikely given that it was only the outgoing government that was crying foul and not the generality of Basotho.

The 1998 riots were ignited by the refusal of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and BNP to accept the results of the elections citing vote rigging. The elections had been won by the LCD, which was then led by Ntsu Mokhehle, formerly of the BCP.

During the disturbances, which were also characterised by an army mutiny, parts of Maseru were destroyed and the economy lurched into a recession.

Law and order was only restored by a SADC military intervention that was requested by Dr Mosisili as premier.

Political analyst Montoeli Masoetsa said Lesotho could not afford a repeat of the 1998 riots, adding that the seven parties would "just have to accept the change of government".

He said South Africa and SADC would not tolerate a subversion of democracy in Lesotho.

Earlier this week, South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane warned that South Africa would not tolerate a coup in Lesotho.

"The South Africans have clearly stated that they would not tolerate a coup in their backyard," Mr Masoetsa said.

"A repeat of the 1998 disturbances will not happen. SADC is ready to step in and defuse any situation that might arise."

He said there were few takers to the outgoing government's claims of voting fraud.

"The party agents that were stationed in all the polling stations should have lodged a complaint during the elections or soon after," said Mr Masoetsa.

"The fact that no such complaint was lodged, means that the outgoing government really has no leg to stand on."

Christian Council of Lesotho Secretary-General, Khosi Makubakube, said the outgoing government's claims of voting fraud raised the risk of their supporters protesting.

"Luckily, most people will resist that urge because they have learnt the hard way to never solve their political frustrations with violence and destroying infrastructure," he said.

"The outgoing government's utterances have not undone Basotho's political maturity which was displayed during the peaceful transfers of power in both the 2012 and 2015 elections."

Mr Makubakube said attempts to drag Lesotho to the 1998 era were bound to fail.

"You will remember that leaders of major political parties' signed a pledge to accept the results of the elections, and on 7 June 2017, they all gathered to sign an acceptance letter," he said.

"However, all of a sudden, some of them had a change of heart and are now demanding a forensic audit.

"You don't need to be a political scientist to see that the results of the elections shocked the seven parties because they didn't think they would come out like that. They never thought the ABC would grab constituencies known to be DC strongholds. No wonder they are resisting. They are suffering from a psychological shock.

"They clearly miscalculated with regards to their electoral pact and are finding it hard to come to terms with that reality."

He added that the only way forward was for Basotho to work hard to build a peaceful nation envisioned in the Vision 2020 document.

For his part, political analyst Arthur Majara said by alleging fraud in the voting process, the outgoing government was ignoring its failure to attract the electorate's support.

He said it was "petty" to cast aspersions on the integrity of the electoral process without providing proof.

"What they are doing is to recklessly peddle the claim that our electoral system is flawed and that is not true. We have sophisticated electoral laws and systems that cannot be easily manipulated," Mr Majara said, adding that the outgoing government was trying to influence their supporters to break the law.

"In the meantime, Ntate Thabane gained a lot of sympathy from voters and the international community when he and his supporters were allegedly victimised by the outgoing government," said Mr Majara.

"Thabane was wise enough to use the two-year period since leaving power to campaign and ensure that his party was deeply rooted in communities.

"Thabane used the political wisdom he has gained from serving in successive governments since 1966 to do the ground work that destroyed both Metsing and Mosisili."

He said the outgoing government had failed to substantiate the claims of vote rigging.

"Even if they were to go to court to challenge these results, they will still lose the case because their evidence is not strong enough.

"Courts of law are very sophisticated and look at the merits and demerits of a case to make a determination. And, as we speak, the points the seven parties are raising are just petty," Mr Majara added.

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