The Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party – founded only in March of this year – dominated Lesotho’s 7 October general election. This has paved the way for RFP founder and leader, and reportedly Lesotho’s richest man, Sam Matekane, to become the country’s prime minister. The RFP won 56 of the country’s 120 National Assembly seats, falling just short of a majority. Notably, the party secured 56 of the 80 available constituency seats but because of how the 40 proportional representation (PR) seats under Lesotho’s mixed system are allocated, it did not receive any PR seats. Regardless, the RFP has emerged as the dominant force in Lesotho politics and will have by far the largest parliamentary delegation. The second-placed Democratic Congress (DC) only secured 29 seats in total and the former ruling party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), collapsed to only eight seats.
Matekane held a press conference on 11 October in Maseru during which he announced that the RFP would form a coalition government with the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) and Alliance of Democrats (AD) parties. Together the three parties form a 65 seat majority in the 120 seat National Assembly.
This general election was defined by voter dissatisfaction with the status quo. Not only did voters overwhelmingly reject established politicians and political parties in favour of a Matekane – a man with limited political experience – but it saw a very low voter turnout, estimated at below 40%. Illustrating this, the leaders of the ABC, Basotho Action Party (BAP), the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and the deputy leader of the DC all lost their constituency election and will only be returned to parliament due to their parties’ respective PR allocations.
This voter dissatisfaction is unsurprising. Political dysfunction and party infighting have resulted in persistent political instability that has gridlocked the country’s legislature and stalled the introduction of much-needed political, economic, and security reforms. Indicative of this, the last parliamentary term failed for five years to pass the reforms recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the European Union (EU) following Lesotho’s 2014 attempted coup and political crisis.
Matekane has been elected on a platform promising stability, prosperity, and effective governance. The prime minister-elect highlighted his business credentials and independent wealth as evidence that he will be able to reform the Lesotho state, reduce corruption, and improve development. However, he will face a multitude of challenges. Matekane’s position as a political outsider and an entrepreneur helped him appeal to voters, but he is unused to the collaborative leadership required to manage a coalition government. Nor is he familiar with the bureaucratic culture of the civil services. He will likely soon discover that trying to reform and revitalise the government and economy of a developing state is significantly more challenging than operating in the private sector.
Matekane’s nascent government has already faced criticism that it is failing to live up to its promises of renewal. These criticisms are primarily aimed at his choice of coalition partners ‒ both the AD and the MEC include established and questionable political figures. AD leader Monyane Moleleki is a lifelong political operative. He has been a senior member of the LCD, a deputy leader of the DC, and served as deputy prime minister between 2017 and 2020 in the government of former prime minister Tom Thabane. MEC leader Selibe Mochoboroane is even more controversial and is currently facing charges of murder and treason related to the 2014 attempted coup. Mochoboroane has denied the charges and claimed that they are politically motivated, but his presence in the RFP-led coalition casts a dark pall over Matekane’s promised political renewal.
Despite this, the RFP’s strong electoral showing and Matekane’s firm grip on the party bode well for Lesotho. The fact that the RFP is only six seats short of a majority means that it should be able to easily maintain the coalition and form a new one should it fall out with one or both of the AD and MEC. Such a solidly anchored coalition, and the fact that most senior RFP figures come from outside the realm of Lesotho politics and its associated intrigue and machinations, should lay the platform for a stable government. This should empower Matekane to pursue the other reforms promised in the RFP’s manifesto including energy self-sufficiency, increased industrialisation, and the development of the country’s agricultural and extractive industries.
In the immediate term, Matekane has promisingly pledged to proceed with implementing the SADC-recommended reforms and to reduce the size of Lesotho’s cabinet. Should he follow through on these pledges within his first year, Lesotho could be set to enjoy its most stable political cycle since 2012.