MASERU — The ousting of Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Metsing Lekhanya last weekend gives the 51-year old party a rare opportunity to rebrand itself ahead of general elections in 2012, analysts have said.
The BNP, which led Lesotho to independence in 1966, has seen its political fortunes decline steadily since its heady days four decades ago.
The BNP’s rule between 1970 and 1986 was characterised by heavy-handedness that drove thousands of Basotho into political exile.
The party was then under the late Chief Leabua Jonathan.
Jonathan was toppled in a military coup in 1986.
Since the advent of democracy in 1993, the BNP’s fortunes have continued on a downward slide.
The party currently has just three proportional representation MPs in parliament.
Under Lekhanya’s tenure the BNP’s votes at the polls have also dwindled from 124 000 in the 2002 election to just 29 000 in the 2007 poll.
The party has also been severely weakened in recent months by a bitter fight to oust the 72-year-old Lekhanya.
Lekhanya finally lost the battle when the party’s national executive committee engineered a palace putsch against him last weekend.
At least 199 delegates cast their votes against the 72-year-old former military strongman with just 68 votes being cast in his favour.
The former military ruler reluctantly agreed to step down after initially putting a meek fight to hold on to the reins.
Political analysts who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week said Lekhanya’s ouster could give the party an opportunity to rebrand in preparation for the next elections in 2012.
National University of Lesotho (NUL) political scientist Motlamelle Kapa says the palace coup could work in the BNP’s favour.
“Lekhanya’s removal might make the BNP stronger,” Kapa said.
But he said it was not a given that “the party will perform better in his absence”.
“We must take into consideration the fact that if Lekhanya ran the party to the ground, he did not do it alone. It is unfair to actually put all the blame on him,” he said.
Kapa, the author of Politics of Coalition in Lesotho, said it was most likely that the majority of people who voted for the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party in 2007 were disgruntled BNP members.
“Members of the BNP who voted for the ABC could go back to the BNP (now that Lekhanya is no longer there). But it’s some kind of a messy situation,” Kapa said.
He said “we could see the BNP, LCD and ABC being the major players at the 2012 polls”.
Kapa said Lekhanya’s exit might influence LCD factions that are locked in a fierce power struggle to bury their differences.
The former director of the Transformation Resource Centre civic group, Nchafatso Sello, said the ouster of Lekhanya could work in the BNP’s favour.
“It just might work in the BNP’s favour; what with the LCD (in a mess) and the ABC failing to clean up its house?” Sello said.
Sello however said it will take a political miracle for the BNP to reinvent itself because influential people who worked with Lekhanya “still remain in the party”.
“Their presence just might hamper progress,” he said.
Lira Theko, who is the president of the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations said the BNP’s future hinged on what the party does in the immediate future.
“What are they going to say and do to convince people to rejoin the party? What winning formula and mechanisms do they have in place to make them winners?” Theko asked.
Theko said the BNP however faced a race against time to regroup ahead of the 2012 elections.
“It is going to take time for the BNP to renew its manifesto, sell it to the people and revive its structures,” he said.