There you have it Basotho. You have, with the narrowest of margins, buried the Looney Tunes coalition and given birth to a new one. Since it hasn’t started work, Scrutator shall not yet give it a new epithet. It’s only fair to give the new coalition a chance to fully unveil itself and do some real work before it earns it characterization. Suffice to say that those who still doubt my wisdom, had better think again.
Followers of this column will know that the Democratic Congress (DC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) alliance is one I had frequently predicted as one of the most likely outcome of the snap elections. If not that, it had to be the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) nexus. The odds were nevertheless always stacked against the latter as the RCL is still an infant while the BNP had only started its resurgence.
Despite not being in power, the DC has remained a behemoth. The folks in the rural mountains will never forget the social grants Pakalitha Mosisili afforded them during his long reign as LCD Prime Minister. They will vote for him no matter what. Some of them think the money came from Mr Size Two’s own back pocket even after his 2012 ouster.
The point must be made of course that this election has been too close. So close that there are no winners and losers. Perhaps, the only biggest winner of course is Methotjoa Metsing. Through the backdoor of proportional representation (PR) seats, Mr Marshmallow will get to keep his job. Because he is the proverbial cat with nine lives, and the ultimate survivor, I am going to have to find a new description for him. He is perhaps no longer a Marshmallow but a Strongman. Let’s see how he fares in the new coalition first.
This weekend’s results of course provide an opportunity for all the contesting parties to do some serious soul searching. The constituency results are the best gauge of the popularity stakes. Cyclone Tom is now history. It must be acutely embarrassing for him to suddenly assume the dishonor of having become the shortest ever serving Prime Minister after Phoofolo’s 24 hour tenure as Prime Minister sometime back in the winding 90s (if not 80s).
But Cyclone Tom can walk with his shoulders very high. He is the leader to have consistently grown his party since 2007 when he won a measly 17 seats, increasing them to 30 in 2012 before the very impressive 40 seats he garnered this weekend. Of course, it is the perennial curse of Lesotho’s electoral system that the well you do in the constituencies, the least likely you are going to form the next government. The DC will know better after their failure to constitute the government in 2012 despite winning an impressive 41 constituency seats. The question for the ABC is whether it will maintain this impressive run after Thabane has gone. Remember that Cyclone Tom has said this election is his last. If he keeps his word, then the ABC would need a new leader of his charisma to carry the mantle. I nevertheless don’t see any suitable candidate among those closest to him. His current deputy looks too glum to carry the party forward. So unless the Cyclone grooms another effective Cyclone, it’s doubtful the ABC will maintain its chutzpah to scale beyond 40 in 2020, assuming the new coalition holds till then.
The DC has equally maintained its impressive support base. It’s extremely difficult for any party to maintain a credible support base after losing power. In fact it is often after losing power that most political parties implode. Look at the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) in Zambia, Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Gerry Rawling’s party (whatever it is called) in Ghana just to name but a few examples.
The thing that Mr Size Two has done, and done very well, is to identify a certain group of voters and give them a message that resonates. He seems to have permanently connected with his constituency in the mountains and created a bond that shall be very difficult to break. It will need a lot of hard work for other parties to penetrate Mosisili’s power base. The worry for him, of course, is that no leader should want to rely on the rural vote only to maintain power. The world is changing rapidly and rural to urban migration has become the norm.
The more the rural herd-boys and herd-girls migrate to the cities, the more they get enlightened. The more they want more than just social grants. Sooner or later there will be fewer and fewer uncritical, and in some cases ignorant, rural voters on which to sustain that support base. The question then is; what happens next. Mr Size Two must of necessity begin thinking seriously of how to engage and connect with urban voters in the same way he has been able to command the rural vote.
Judging by the numbers that thronged Setsoto Stadium for their rally, I would have thought that the BNP would have done better, if not in the constituencies, then in the PR seats. The improvement by just two seats from their five PR only seats in 2012 is grossly unsatisfactory. Ntante Maseribane and Molapo must ask themselves what went wrong and find the answers. Their motto and mission statement was very slick. Yet it did not do the job for them. Why? Find out for yourselves gentlemen.
The Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL)’s two PR seats are probably not too bad for a political upstart launched only a few weeks before the polls. But the fact that Mme Keke fared so badly in her own constituency does not augur well for the party. It would have to work the hardest to make a difference in the future.
Metsing has every reason to celebrate for outfoxing Cyclone Tom and retaining his position in the new coalition. But if I were him, I would have sleepless nights over the LCD’s poor performance in the constituency seats. Since 2007 when it won 60 plus constituency seats, the LCD has been imploding, winning only 12 in 2012 – in a poll many had billed as being between the LCD and DC – and sliding further to only two seats during the weekend elections. If the party maintains that rate, it will crash in 2020 and have no seats. The question becomes; what happens if the luck of the backdoor PR seats runs out? Moreover, no politician wants to be a deputy to someone forever. Every politician must of necessity aim to scale greater heights. After being deputy Prime Minister in two consecutive coalitions, Mr Marshmallow must of necessity want to become Prime Minister in 2020. This can only happen if the LCD regains all lost ground and re-asserts its lost glory. One way of doing this is for Metsing to halt the high turnover of politicians from his party. He must hold onto whoever he has now and recruit new credible talent into the LCD ranks.
Many have already written the obituary of the Mosisili coalition. This because, just like the previous coalition, it is a coalition of convenience; not built on solid shared principles, values and mores. Joang Molapo posted a terse statement on his facebook page saying accept the outcome and but his BNP’s alliance with the ABC would soon bounce back. It seems Molapo is already looking forward to Metsing complaining next week that Mr Size Two has not consulted him on this or that point, beginning the unravelling of the alliance before it has even assumed power. That of course will not happen. Metsing must have learnt from his mistakes. Here is my advice lines to him;
1) If it were not for you Metsing, Size Two would never have been able to form a coalition even after all the other uncle/nephew one seat parties had supported him. So please insist on taking charge of a few influential ministries including the finance portfolio you held in the previous government and at least one security ministry;
2) Remember a coalition agreement is an understanding between political buddies and not a statutory document. However, ensure that it contains the necessary safeguards and it clearly identifies and defines the dos and donts for the coalition parties;
3) The coalition government must state the issues and decisions that must be taken jointly by coalition partners and those that require prime ministerial discretion alone;
If you do not insist on a solid coalition pact with all the necessary safeguards for your important Kingmaker role that has enabled this new coalition, please expect no sympathies from anyone, not least me. When I hear you cry that you have not been consulted on this or that decision, I will say to you, cry out even louder.
Followers of my wisdom will recall the umpteen times I have praised Mosisili over his decision to ensure a smooth handover of power in 2012. I expect the same of Thabane. Sadly I had not heard anything from him at the time of going to print last night. I am not even sure whether this is a sign of a man not willing to hand over power or it could be just that the Cyclone was in low spirits last night after the final tallies were announced. Whichever the case, I expect Thabane to be as courteous as Mosisili in 2012 and dispatch the following statement to Mr Size Two; “Hi there my brother. It’s Cyclone Tom here. Thanks for deflating me. The Cyclone has faded into a lesser tornado. I hand over power to you. Let’s meet for a drink tonight and I give you the keys to State House in Person………Ache!!!!”