ALL Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane’s absence is both a boon and bane for his political fortunes, analysts say, with his continued stay in exile keeping the spotlight on the need for security reforms, while also disenfranchising his support base.
According to analysts who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week, Dr Thabane, who is the official leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, was in a precarious position since he could not assume his position while in exile.
Dr Thabane has been living in South Africa since he fled the country on 11 May this year, claiming the military was out to assassinate him for falling out with its command while he was premier.
The ABC leader was succeeded by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili after his alliance, which included the Basotho National Partyand Reformed Congress of Lesotho, failed to garner the majority seats it needed in the 28 February 2015 snap elections to remain in power.
However, after claiming the Lesotho Defence Force was plotting to kill him prompting his flight to South Africa, Dr Thabane was soon joined in exile by BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo on 13 and 26 May 2015 respectively. The two leaders also made claims similar to Dr Thabane’s for their flight, which has put Lesotho under the spotlight while also being condemned by the international community.
The analysts said Dr Thabane’s continued absence had the potential of frustrating his subordinates and supporters since it was happening at a critical time in the country’s history.
Lira Theko of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), said because the ABC was a huge party, which grew has grown since the 28 February 2015 poll, it was critical for Dr Thabane to be closer to home to “campaign and maintain the momentum”.
The ABC raised its seats tally from 30 in the 2012 general elections to securing 46 of the 120 parliamentary seats on offer in the 28 February 2015 polls.
“Thabane needs to be around to hold rallies and mobilise support as he has always done,” Mr Theko said.
“Lesotho is also going through a very critical political phase and as leader of the opposition, his presence needs to be felt. His absence also has the potential to create a conflict borne of frustration within the ABC.”
He added: “The question is, in his absence, how strong are the structures he has left in the ABC to maintain the momentum he has set?”
According to Mr Theko, Dr Thabane’s absence further impacts negatively on “democracy, stability and development in general” because he cannot perform his parliamentary duties as official leader of the opposition.
“Parliament has been in recess for some time now and we know that, going forward, the opposition is critical because the house needs their input for laws to be passed,” Mr Theko said.
“However, on the flip side, the former premier’s determination strengthens his supporters’ resolve to stick with him.”
Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations Director, Seabata Motsamai, echoed Mr Theko’s sentiments, saying that Dr Thabane’s absence left a gap in the party because of his charismatic leadership style.
“Thabane has charisma and handles issues in a charismatic manner. That charisma means that, as a leader, he can persuade people and influence opinions,” Mr Motsamai says.
“For instance, he is known for constantly holding rallies to mobilise support for his party, which is a dividend for the ABC. Even if there are strong people in the party, his presence is an added bonus. His absence, however, means the added value is declining.”
However, Mr Motsamai was quick to add that people who understood the principle of inclusivity and respect for human rights would “sympathise with Thabane and still follow him regardless”.
“In essence, what I am saying is it depends on what the target group is. The support of people in the rural areas is fickle as they are vulnerable to whatever information they are fed and will not entertain anyone who is not Thabane,” Mr Motsamai said.
“But urban-based people who uphold the principle of human rights, and believe in the rule of law, separation of powers, and civilian rule over security forces, will always support him despite his absence, because they believe in what he stands for.”
However, Motlamelle Kapa of the National University of Lesotho begged to differ, stating that Dr Thabane’s absence could “never have a negative impact on the ABC”.
“His reasons for leaving are in the public domain. If we were to go for elections now, he would still perform well or even gain more votes,” Dr Kapa said.
“His absence does not, in the least, compromise the party, more especially because he continues to address his party’s rallies from across the border. So he remains relevant to the people.”