Crowd-pulling power doesn’t translate into election victory for RFP

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. . . analysts warn that party must establish grassroots structures if it is to emerge victorious

Bongiwe Zihlangu/Moroke Sekoboto

WHILE this week’s manifesto launch rally of the newly formed Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) was a well-attended and impressive affair, analysts have warned that “all that glitters is not gold” and that in elections, “green fields don’t translate into a great harvest”.

According to analysts who spoke to the Lesotho Times yesterday, while the RFP had proved its crowd-pulling capacity which most political outfits lacked, the real work was only just beginning for the party to consolidate itself at the grassroots level.

The colourful party was founded by billionaire businessman Sam Matekane on 22 March 2022.

The political commentators said that RFP’s humungous rally to launch its election manifesto had sent a message to Lesotho’s key political parties that a new and very serious player has entered the game and that committing resources to political campaign rallies resulted in dividends.

According to Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) Executive Director, Seabata Motsamai, the huge attendances at the RFP’s Sunday rally in Likotsi, Maseru had proved that despite its tender age, the party will be a serious contender in the elections due in October this year.

“Although the English would say, ‘all that glitters is not gold’, the huge crowds at the rally suggest that Matekane will be a serious contender in the 2022 elections,” Mr Motsamai said.

“He is now ranked among the most prominent political players and his party belongs in the league of the biggest parties in Lesotho. The success of the RFP rally is a clear indication that when you put in a lot of resources and commitment into campaigns, you reap positive results. That rally is a message to Lesotho’s political parties about commitment. It also shows that a serious contender has entered the game,” Mr Motsamai said.

He said that the RFP had also brought a shift in the manner politics was now being conducted in the country.

“Matekane has added value to our politics. He has brought a shift to how parties must package their political messages. That shift says parties have to do away with the usual rhetoric of vulgarity. They are now refraining from character assassination. There is a lot of improvement in the speeches of our political leaders save for a few. Their speeches have become vibrant and have more serious content. Hence, I say RFP has added value to the political landscape. There’s a lot of change and your prominent political leaders are less arrogant now as they focus on keeping up with the RFP.”

However, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Director, Tsikoane Peshoane, disagreed. He said “green fields do not necessarily translate into a great harvest”.

Huge attendances at rallies did not always translate into elections victory, Mr Peshoane said.

He gave an example of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) which attracted huge crowds shortly after being formed as a splinter party from the then ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in 2006.

“The RFP seems to have a crowd-pulling capacity. That rally was huge in terms of numbers. But then again the ABC was also a crowd-puller. However, that did not immediately translate into election victory. It only won 17 constituencies in the 2007 elections, Mr Peshoane said.

He said that in 1998 the former ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) – which was led by the dynamic and wealthy Retšelisitsoe Sekhonyana – had large crowds during its campaign rallies but only won the Bobatsi constituency in Mokhotlong during elections that year.

“History tells you that Marematlou Freedom Party (BNP) was for the royal and rich in 1965 and that every constituency had a Land Rover vehicle for campaigning. But the party did not win even a single constituency.

“The RFP has influence and the capacity to pull crowds because of its financial resources. However, the question should be: what is required for a political party to win elections? The answer is that it needs strong grassroots structures because a strong base on the ground is what leads a party to victory,” Mr Peshoane said.

The successful Sunday rally was only the beginning not the end for the RFP. There was a lot of hard work ahead before victory is achieved, Mr Peshoane said.

“For RFP, the success of its rally is the beginning of a greater assignment ahead to establish grassroots structures. Again, it should be noted that people in the urban areas tend to get excited by the noise they hear. They may attend rallies but that does not mean the loyalty and votes are guaranteed.  Huge crowds are important but grassroots structures are critical for electoral mobilisation,” Mr Peshoane said.

Tlohang Letsie of the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said that while the RFP rally was impressive, it could not be safely assumed that the party would cruise to victory in the upcoming elections.

“The country has been in similar situations before where political parties hold huge rallies prior to elections, but the electoral outcomes would not be reflective of the magnitude of the rallies held before.

“It has happened with the BNP in past elections. The party would hold massive rallies but the elections results did not translate into anticipated results,” Dr Letsie said.

As much as the RFP rally was huge, Dr Letsie added, it was not certain that all the people who attended were RFP supporters who would vote it into power.

“I’m quite sure that other parties’ supporters attended the rally to observe the support of RFP,” he added.

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