On 3 June, Lesotho voters took to the polls in the country’s third snap elections in five years. Main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane from the All Basotho Congress (ABC) emerged victorious, winning 48 seats ‒ 47 constituency and one proportional representation (PR) seat. Thabane, who fled to neighbouring South Africa in 2014 fearing for his life, returned to Lesotho in February this year. The elections followed a decision by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to revert to snap elections rather than resigning from his position after a successful vote of no-confidence in his leadership. Mosisili won 30 seats (26 constituency and four PR seats), thus making his Democratic Congress (DC) party the official opposition. His DC party signed an election pact with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), but his coalition only managed to collect 55 seats.
Following his election defeat, Mosisili resigned from his position as prime minister on 8 June, thus allaying fears of further political instability. He will remain as prime minister and lead a caretaker government until the new prime minister is inducted into office. Mosisili’s former Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, has since called for a national unity government, asserting that a more inclusive coalition agreement would ensure stability given the failure of any party to secure an outright parliamentary majority. Metsing has also noted that, in the interest of maintaining stability, there is no need to dissolve the current government.
The elections, perceived as a two-horse race between long-time rivals Thabane and Mosisili, were widely hailed as peaceful, free, fair and consistent with the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) protocols on elections.
However, the presence of the military at polling stations on Election Day is concerning. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the army’s deployment was an attempt by Mosisili to raise confusion and intimidate voters. The army is often accused of interfering in politics and has been instrumental in obstructing security and political stability in the mountain kingdom. Pro-Mosisili army officers still face possible prosecution following an investigation by the SADC appointed Commission of Inquiry into a 2014 attempted coup and the underlying causes of Lesotho’s perennial political instability. It is hoped that Mosisili’s acceptance of his election defeat and his subsequent resignation will encourage the military to accept the outcomes of the election and instead submit to Thabane’s leadership.
Lesotho has a complex mixed member proportional representation (MMPR) electoral system, with 80 of the 120 parliamentary seats directly contested and the remaining 40 seats distributed based on proportional representation. Given that Thabane did not win an outright majority, he must form a coalition government to meet the required 61 seats that would enable him to take up the Prime Minister’s position and lead the National Assembly. After the election results were announced, Thabane indicated that he will form a coalition with the Alliance of Democrats (AD, won nine seats), the Basotho National Party (BNP, five seats) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL, one PR seat).
Having gone through several failed coalition governments, the notion of another does not bode well for political stability and economic development. Coalition governments have been plagued by political infighting and power struggles and given that the same personalities who formed part of previous coalitions are part of this coalition, it appears unlikely that Thabane’s new government will be able to overcome these challenges. However, Thabane has vowed to restore Lesotho and turn the country into a ‘beacon of hope for Africa’ and expressed commitment to implement reforms that are aimed at restoring good governance and accountability, recommended by the SADC Commission of Inquiry.
Nevertheless, Thabane’s connections to the corrupt Gupta family who reside in South Africa are a matter of grave concern. In 2014, Thabane appointed Atul Gupta – one of the Gupta brothers accused of state capture in SA – as a senior economic adviser.
Additionally, Thabane ran a significantly better funded election campaign than his competitors and many alleged that the controversial Gupta family funded his campaign so that they could benefit unduly when he is in government.
Evidently, elections alone will not ensure immediate resolve of Lesotho’s chronically unstable political structure and SADC will need to provide continued guidance and leadership. At its March 2017 Summit it undertook to convene another summit shortly following formation of the new government to chart a plan aimed at implementing political, economic and security reforms and this will remain a crucial source of support.