Political Drama Overshadows Issues as Lesotho Revisits Polls

MASERU, LESOTHO � The Southern African nation of Lesotho has seen more than its share of political drama in recent years. The tiny, landlocked kingdom heads to the polls Saturday, three years earlier than expected, after lawmakers forced out the prime minister. Instead of stepping down, he called a snap election.

The main contenders in Lesotho’s parliamentary election agree on the most important things: The people of this impoverished, mountainous nation need improved access to water and electricity, better education and health services, and more job opportunities.

These are promises the previous two government coalitions failed to deliver as their alliances collapsed amid vicious political infighting.

That’s why Lesotho is voting Saturday for the third time in five years. More than 30 parties are running in 80 districts, but the vote boils down again to a contest between the two powerful coalitions that have bitterly fought for power since 2012.

Corruption, rights abuses

But this is not just another election for this tiny kingdom, surrounded on all sides by South Africa, said opposition candidate Machesetsa Mofomobe.

This is the most important election in the history of Lesotho,” he noted. “It’s an election that, if Lesotho is not saved from the grip of the current regime, it’s all over with, Lesotho. The corruption in this country, it’s unprecedented. The culture of impunity is unprecedented. The culture of unlawlessness in this country, it’s unprecedented. If Lesotho is not saved now, we are doomed.

Observers have accused the current ruling coalition of corruption and of human rights abuses. Mofomobe, who has been outspoken against the government, was arrested several times in recent months on murky charges.

His Basotho National Party ruled Lesotho for more than two decades before being pushed out in a 1986 coup. Today, it holds one seat in parliament. If his party wins any seats this time, he said, they’ll likely align with the All Basotho Convention, or ABC, which is currently the opposition.

They face a tough fight from the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress.

Political squabbles

Foreign Minister Mamphono Khaketla, the party’s treasurer, said political squabbles in the capital have been unfair to ordinary Basotho � and that her party deserves a chance to implement its policies.

These fires are here in Maseru, and they are not even from the people in our constituencies in the rural areas, who want electricity, who want water, who want roads, who want clinics,” she said. “As it were, we are spending over 200 million Maloti [US$15.4 million] for these elections. If there was no election, this money could have been used to do these things that are useful for our communities.

ABC spokesman Moeketsi Majoro agreed, even though the opposition blames the current ruling coalition for the political drama. The ABC headed a ruling coalition from 2012 to 2014, when an army-led action forced the party’s leader to flee to South Africa. His party is pushing hard for reforms to the security sector, which has been accused of meddling in politics.

At the heart of the lack of progress and the lack of development,” said Majoro, “is political instability instigated by short-sighted politicians and the security forces. Things have gone so bad that if we continue on this trajectory, Lesotho is on its way to a failed state.

Some 1.2 million Basotho have registered to vote. Results are expected Monday. Whichever coalition comes out on top will choose the next prime minister.

Source: Voice of America