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MASERU — Ah, what a year it has been for our politicians.
2010 was a year in which an alliance was broken, a ruling party battled to remain intact, an opposition leader was ousted, MPs lined their pockets and five ministers were fired in the biggest cabinet reshuffle since 1998.
In the same year a new law commercialising land was passed amidst protests from opposition parties.
Despite its internal troubles the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) still managed to defeat the opposition in three by-elections. Below is a summary of the big political events that made the headlines this year.
Lesotho opposition parties threaten to boycott local government elections which were set to be held in May demanding that the laws governing elections should be amended first. After negotiations the government agreed to postpone the elections to March 2011. Also in January a Basotho National Party (BNP) faction opposed to leader Metsing Lekhanya revealed that it wanted former National University of Lesotho (NUL) professor, Kopano Makoa, to take over the leadership of the party. Lekhanya laughed off the suggestions.
A row erupts over the block farming scheme. A letter written by LCD bigwig and former trade minister Mpho Malie to Standard Lesotho Bank, the bank that disbursed the funds to the farmers, is leaked to the media. The letter alleges that three ministers who were appointed as mentors for the farmers had looted the scheme. Finance Minister Timothy Thahane and Agriculture Minister Ralechate ‘Mokose deny that they partook in the looting as alleged by Malie. But the assistant minister of agriculture Ramootse Lehata later admits that he had failed to repay the money he had borrowed. The reason, he said, was because his crops had failed.
The year was barely three months-old when Parliament passed the controversial Land Bill 2010 amid protests by the opposition and a public outcry. The opposition accused the LCD of fast-tracking the Act and ignoring concerns that the law might strip the poor of their only asset, land.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a United States-funded project to modernise Lesotho, was accused of leaning on the government to push the law. The Americans flatly denied the allegations. In protest the opposition boycotted parliament but the LCD pressed ahead and passed the law. In the same month the Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Metsing Lekhanya survived a vote of no confidence motion at a hostile BNP conference. Hostile delegates swore that by the end of the year they would have pushed Lekhanya out (keep reading to find out what happened before the end of the year).
Parliament passes the Members of Parliament Salaries Amendment Bill 2010 allowing MPs to cash a quarter of their pensions before they actually retire. That resulted in a public outcry with ordinary folks accusing MPs of using parliament to enrich themselves. As a result of that law, passed without the usual bickering, MPs became the only people in this country allowed to enjoy a portion of their pensions before they actually retire. When the Lesotho Times journalist Bongiwe Zihlangu broke the story MPs went livid and demanded that she be banned from parliament but the National Assembly Deputy Speaker Sephiri Motanyane turned down the request.
Despite its internal turmoil the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) wins three by-elections in the Hololo, Mpharane and Sebapala constituencies. The opposition cries foul and accuses the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of favouring the LCD. All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane claims the IEC manipulated the votes to help the ruling party win. Both the IEC and the LCD denied the allegations. Observers say the elections were free and fair.
The ABC severed its three-year alliance with the labour-backed Lesotho Worker’s Party (LWP). The ABC called the alliance “a mere electoral pact” and Thabane said his party will not be weaker without the LWP. Party insiders said differences between Thabane and LWP’s Macaefa Billy precipitated the break-up. Thabane said Billy, who had been appointed ABC secretary general as part of the alliance deal, was incompetent.
Billy lashed back by claiming that his problems with Thabane had been caused by the ABC leader’s right hand-man and national executive committee chairman Molobelu Soulo. The party’s publicity secretary Thabo Thakalekoala had also contributed to the discord, Billy alleged. Both Soulo and Thakalekoala rubbished Billy’s claims and accused him of looking for scapegoats.
Billy threatened to reclaim PR seats given to ABC members under the alliance if Thabane refused to co-operate. LWP deputy-leader Sello Maphalla also blamed the ABC for destroying the ABC/LWP alliance.
In the same month, the LCD holds a youth league elective conference in which all youths aligned to the pro-Monyane Moleleki faction win all positions by a landslide. The victory was viewed by many as the beginning of the return of Moleleki who two years earlier had seemed to have been condemned to the political dustbin when he was voted out of the LCD national executive committee for the first time in 13 years.
Former ABC youth league leader Pitso Maisa called for the dissolution of the ABC youth committee. The league’s spokesperson Jane Mohoalohoalo claims Maisa only wanted the committee disbanded because of fears that the youth might be heavily aligned to Billy. Maisa later begged the Lesotho Times to withdraw the story “because it has the potential to cripple me politically. I did not say it so that it could be published”. In the same month 35 irate LCD constituencies submit petitions calling for the removal of the party’s executive committee, with the exception of leader Pakalitha Mosisili and deputy leader Lesao Lehohla. Constituencies accused the rest of the committee members of being inept, disloyal and insubordinate. The petitions are whittled down to 26 after the committee said some of them were illegitimate.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili fires five cabinet ministers in his biggest reshuffle since the LCD came to power in 1997. The reshuffle brews anger and some of the party’s youths aligned to the fired ministers gather supposedly to welcome their fired ministers. It also triggers speculation that some of the fired ministers could be planning to form a splinter party.
Thabane is booed by delegates at the party’s special conference at Maseru High School. The angry delegates claimed that Thabane was allowing himself to be misled by party chairman Molobeli Soulo. The Soulo-led executive committee survives concerted efforts to dissolve it. Also in November, Mosisili admitted publicly for the first time that factionalism had rocked the ruling party. He said this while addressing the party’s leadership conference. After much bickering and debate the conference resolves to organise a special conference to deal with the petitions calling for the disbandment of the national executive committee.
Mosisili himself promises the conference that the executive committee would make preparations for the extraordinary Indaba.
Popane Lebesa, former trade minister who was fired from cabinet in October, resigns as the LCD executive committee treasurer. He claims that he has been neglecting his Maseru constituency and that since he’s no longer a minister, he thought it best to also resign from the committee to work hard to win back the constituency he lost in 2007 to the ABC. In the same month the BNP finally manages to boot out Lekhanya through a vote-of-no-confidence motion.
At a press briefing, the BNP executive committee vows to enforce the resolution of the conference to kick Lekhanya out. Lekhanya was replaced by deputy leader Thesele ‘Maseribane who will hold the reins until the next conference. Lekhanya said he’s not going to challenge the conference’s decision but adds: “I do not have confidence in ‘Maseribane. He’s going to run the BNP to the group in no time”.