Lesotho goes to the polls for the third time in five years today, Saturday June 3, in a fresh attempt to bring some political stability to the troubled mountain kingdom, but an outright winner among the 25 contesting parties remains unlikely – suggesting another cobbled-together coalition government and potentially more instability down the line.
The major players come Saturday remain the current heavyweights and includes the Democratic Congress (DC) of outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili whose seven-party coalition lost a March vote of no confidence sponsored by four opposition parties that resulted in Mr Mosisili deciding to ask King Letsie III to dissolve Parliament and force fresh elections rather than hand power to the opposition grouping that included a breakaway faction of his own party.
Other major parties include the would-be-kings Tom Thabane of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the newly-established Alliance of Democrats (AD) headed by Monyane Moleleki – once Mr Mosisili’s deputy in the DC.
The ABC and AD are expected to be joined by two other smaller parties in a potential coalition government, while the DC has an agreement with outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD).
The latter grouping has agreed a one-candidate strategy in the 80 directly-elected constituencies, with the DC fielding 54 candidates, the LCD 25 and one to the PFD – that of party leader Lekhetho Rakuoane.
This election sees the emergence of several new parties with unproven track records but with some apparent appeal.
These include the AD party formed in January and two other newcomers – the Truth Reconciliation Unity (TRU) party and the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) – all three of which split from the major groupings.
Mr Moleleki broke away from the DC to form the AD, while the former All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader, Tlali Khasu, left to form the TRU and former secretary general of the LCD, Selibe Mochoboroane, quit to establish the MEC.
The performance of these untested parties and their eventual role in any coalition suggest an even more unpredictable outcome this time around.
Then there are the as yet unaligned former coalition partners of the DC that have no deal in place – such as the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), the National Independent Party (NIP), and the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC).
There are around a dozen or more even smaller parties that could make the formation of a ruling coalition an even muddier affair – raising the possibility that up to 10 parties could be melded into a single entity.
None of this suggests a stable, enduring coalition government is likely to emerge from Saturday’s poll and most of the political leaders involved have already demonstrated an inability to work together and an unhealthy appetite for power.
The one exception is the newly-formed MEC set up after some leaders split from the LCD. Its leader, Mr Mochoboroane (39), is the youngest by far among the main party leaders. Local media describe him as a “man of action” based on his previous roles as minister of energy and then as minister of small business.
The possibility of a single party gaining an outright victory in the elections – that would need 61 out of the 80 directly-elected constituencies and the additional 40 seats distributed by proportional representation – is remote.
But, given this is Lesotho, it is not impossible.
Mr Thabane is among those confident of an outright victory, but he too has hedged his bets with the mechanisms of a coalition in place with him as prime minister once again, but there is no agreement on that small matter with his major potential partner, the AD and Mr Moleleki.
Mr Thabane told South African media this week that he expected to win at least 60 of the 80 constituencies and emerge on top.
Despite the high stakes and a recent record of violence, we expect Saturday’s poll and the immediate aftermath to be largely peaceful despite security concerns heightened by some opposition party claims the military was preparing a coup in the event Mr Mosisili loses.
That remains unlikely in the short to medium term but will return as a possibility in the event of another protracted bout of instability and infighting among political parties.
The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) this week dismissed allegations it was planning to stage a coup in the event that the current government loses the elections.
While sporadic violence is possible during this weekend’s vote and the subsequent counting period with the all-but-guaranteed allegations of rigging by losing parties, we do not expect any major confrontation and anticipate that the elections will go off largely peacefully if less than perfectly.
The problems will begin with losing parties rejecting the results, but again we expect the overall outcome to be credible and reflect the general will of the Lesotho people.
Since an outright electoral victory remains unlikely, we will once again enter coalition country and since we are dealing largely with the same crop of leaders who have failed on two previous occasions in the past few years to hold a government together, the prospects this time are unfortunately no brighter.
Leadership and position squabbles are not far down the line and the larger the coalition, the more likely it will be weak and unstable.
Despite some voices to the contrary, we do not expect the LDF to do anything but exercise its constitutional mandate. However, another bout of political instability and volatile coalitions. and all bets may be off.