HOLOLO — There is something about the Hololo by-election that seems to bother the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party.
To understand what’s really nagging them you have to look at how the people of Hololo voted in the 2007 general election.
The ruling party romped home but with only a mere 700 votes separating their candidate from the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party candidate.
That was a narrow victory for a ruling party that had become used to winning with landslide margins especially in rural constituencies like Hololo.
And because of that the LCD is aware that unlike the other two by-elections in Sebapala and Mpharane, Hololo will not be an easy walk in the park.
Add that to the fact that the LCD has taken a seemingly bold gamble of fielding a 23-year-old candidate, who according to the congress politics can be described as a novice, and you understand why they are probably not at ease.
The LCD is facing a potentially bruising battle.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, a politician who normally enjoys throwing brickbats at opponents, all but betrayed this nagging fear when addressing a well-attended rally
In Mpharane last week, Mosisili all but declared victory.
In Sebapala he exuded confidence.
But in Hololo he tampered his address with some pleas and a few cautious threats.
“They were just 700 votes behind the LCD in 2007,” Mosisili said of his party’s biggest political rival, the ABC.
It was a reminder to his supporters that the ruling party was facing a huge challenge as it fights to retain Hololo.
“Rise from the confines of the shadow of death and restore Hololo to the LCD,” he told the 2 000 or so people who attended the rally.
Mosisili’s fear is not without justification.
In 2007 the ABC snatched Butha-Buthe, a constituency right next to Hololo, from the LCD.
“The people of Butha-Buthe badly let us down,” he said adding: “It is what made this yellow thing (ABC) to disrespect us”.
The key to an LCD victory in Hololo, Mosisili said, was for the supporters to recruit more votes.
“If each one of you could have recruited at least three people by the time we go to the 22 May polls, you will have outdone yourselves,” he said.
“You should know that every vote counts. I want you to give us more votes here than you did in 2007.”
Then he reminded Hololo villagers of the pitfalls of voting for an opposition MP.
“How could we possibly work with a person who is not one of us?”Mosisili asked rhetorically.
“If you vote for a candidate who is not from the LCD, how will he bring services to you when the money will be in the coffers of the government run by the LCD?
“I say to you, ask those people lobbying for your support at the polls how they hope to bring services to you. How will they live up to their promises and with what money?”
It’s a normal carrot that African ruling parties have dangled for voters.
It’s a tactic based on the reasoning and unfortunate reality that opposition parties don’t hold the purse so they cannot get things done.
It’s unfortunate but it happens.
Opposition candidates who promise to bring services to the people when voted into parliament are like dishonest politicians who promise to build bridges where there are no rivers, Mosisili said.
“And if you ask them how they will build bridges when there are no rivers they will promise to first build the rivers.”
But Mosisili still managed to show some bravado although this time it was not of the same magnitude as he did in Sebapala and Mpharane.
That the ABC won Butha-Buthe, he said, should not give them the illusion that they will wrest Hololo from the LCD on Saturday.
“Yours and Hololo’s salvation is in your hands,” he said amidst wild applause from the supporters.
Mosisili then presented the LCD candidate for Hololo, 23-year-old Teboho Lets’ela, to party supporters.
“I can see that you are still young,” he told Lets’ela.
“God chose you when you were still in your mother’s womb. He knew then that today you would be Hololo’s candidate for the LCD. If you grow a big head, you will get lost. Do not let being an MP make you pompous.”
Then he flung his usual brickbat at the ABC candidate Mmamahele Radebe, describing her as “that old woman”.
“Why would you want to vote for that old woman who knows nothing about the challenges you face,” Mosisili said.
Radebe told the Lesotho Times that she is in her “fifties”
At the same rally the LCD women’s league president, ‘Mathabiso Lepono, pleaded with Hololo to support Lets’ela.
“We are appealing to you, knocking at your hearts to support this young man because he is a godsend. Our manifesto also addresses youth empowerment,” Lepono said.
There is a possible explanation why LCD stalwarts descended on Hololo on Sunday: The electorate needed assurance that a 23-year-old was worth putting in parliament.
The other reason could be that Lets’ela had climbed the ladder too fast and in the process his nomination had gone against the congress party tradition about respecting seniority within party ranks.
Lets’ela stunned the ruling party’s political establishment when he beat 10 other candidates in the party’s primary elections on April 2.
In the weeks leading to the confirmation of nominations by the IEC, Lets’ela’s nomination caused a stir as he had not been a member of the LCD’s committees at any level.
Lets’ela is aware of this blight on his candidature but he remains confident — perhaps assured by the support he got from the party leadership — that he will prevail.
“I might not have featured in any structures of the party. But I enjoy immense support within the party,” Lets’ela said.
“Being young gives me an advantage over my rivals in that the majority of this constituency’s population is the youth,” he said.
“The ABC candidate is old and I am sure she has nothing (to offer).”
That might be so but come this Saturday this matter will not be in Lets’ela’s hands.
Are voters concerned about how old their candidates are?
Will the LCD supporters give their vote to the ABC because their party has put its trust in a mere college student?
Or could it just be a battle between the LCD and the ABC and not the candidates?
The results which will provide an answer to this question will be announced on Sunday.
in Hololo on Sunday ahead of Saturday’s by-election.