Magazine article New African

Lesotho: A New Era?

Magazine article New African

Lesotho: A New Era?

Article excerpt

The quaint and peaceful Kingdom of Lesotho has a new leader, after a closely-fought election brought in Pakalitha Mosilili as president. Simon Allison reports from Maseru.

'Lesotho has new leader,' screamed South Africa's The Times, shortly after Pakalitha Mosisili announced himself as head of a new governing coalition in early March. It was a disingenuous headline. If Mosisili has novelty value, then it is only in comparison to Africa's longest ruling presidents. He has already governed Lesotho for 14 years, and this will be his fourth term.

Nonetheless, it's a fresh start for the veteran politician. Mosisili was only unseated at the 2012 polls when Thomas Thabane, his colleague-turned-nemesis, cobbled together a ruling coalition--despite Mosisili winning the popular vote.

Thabane, however, overplayed his hand when he extended his vigorous anti-corruption drive to his coalition partners, ensnaring Deputy Prime Minister and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing in the process last year. Metsing is still fighting the charges in court. Thabane also fell out with the Lesotho Defence Force's leadership, reportedly still loyal to Mosisili, when he tried to install his men.

SADC mediation

The result was a constitutional crisis and protests on the streets of the capital Maseru, with army units occupying police stations and Thabane fleeing for his life into neighbouring South Africa. Under a mandate from the South African Development Community (SADC), South Africa stepped in to calm the situation and mediate a settlement between the warring politicians and security branches. With Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa leading several rounds of talks and the South African Police Services guaranteeing Thabane's personal safety, a deal to hold snap elections was reached.

It was these elections that Mosisili won. Having spent less than three years in opposition, he is back in the top job--which was, analysts suspect, the whole point of the preceding political instability.

Election observer missions from the African Union, led by Raila Odinga, the Commonwealth, led by Festus Mogae, and SADC, led by Make Nkoana-Mashabane, declared the elections free and fair. At 47%, turnout was lower than anticipated and a consequence of the rains which turned election day into a washout in much of the country.

All parties publicly committed to maintaining peace and interactions between rival politicians were jocular as South Africa's deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa flew in and out of the capital Maseru to, according to some observers, "keep an eye on things." Ramaphosa's presence should not be underestimated for many reasons apart from the fact that Lesotho is completely encircled by South Africa.

In 1998, South Africa deployed 700 troops to Lesotho to quell rioting following a disputed election and the troops ended up staying in their tiny neighbour for seven months.

This time round, it took several days for the votes to be counted, with the final announcement held up by the difficulty of transporting ballot boxes from Lesotho's more rural, mountainous areas.

But the outcome of the 2015 polls contained a few shocks. Lesotho's parliament has 120 seats-80 are elected by constituencies, with an additional 40 topping them up to make the results proportional. Metsing and his LCD suffered a dramatic decline in support, winning just two constituency seats, down from 12.

Another surprise was Thabane's equally dramatic surge in popularity, with his All Basotho Convention (ABC) securing 40 constituency seats, compared to just 26 last time round. …

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