October 13, 2011

LCD sweeps local poll

Despite the factional standoff that is increasingly polarising its ranks, the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) managed to prevail in the local elections, holding on to 69 of the country's 77 councils. Opposition parties and independents have won the rest. Of the main opposition parties, the All Basotho Convention (ABC) managed to win only three councils, and the Basotho National Party just two. Of the smaller parties, the left-of-centre Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) appears to have achieved most, doubling its presence at ward level from 10 to 20 electoral divisions, or wards. Though it controls one council, its performance at the ward level prompted the Independent Electoral Commission to place the PFD in third position after the ABC.

The PFD campaigned on a platform of combating unemployment and securing a deal with South Africa to enable freer cross-border movement to aid employment. Lesotho's local councils have been reorganised since the last local elections in 2005, cutting the number of councils from 129 to 77. This complicates reliable comparison with results in the 2005 election - the first local council elections since independence in 1966. But initial assessments, in an anyway sluggish process of recording and collating poll results, show that voter turnout was even lower this year than the 30% recorded in 2005, with some districts only managing a paltry 15%. The LCD is able to maintain its grip on local government through intricate channels of patronage that it controls as majority party in the national legislature. But the party's internal fortunes rest on increasingly shaky ground. The factional split comprising supporters and opponents of veteran Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili is becoming more openly acrimonious.

The leader of the anti-Mosisili grouping, Communications Minister Mothejoa Metsing, was recently caught up in a WikiLeaks exposé in which he was quoted describing the prime minister as a "dictator". When the LCD's parliamentary caucus met two days before the local elections to call Metsing to account, he boycotted the proceedings. All eyes are now on the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections, and whether Metsing's faction will be edged out or strengthen its position in the LCD. PFD's gains - and the miniscule turnout - point to growing disaffection with established political parties. But it remains to be seen whether the country's small parties will be able to inject more political content on the country's massive developmental challenges within a political environment where factionalism and jockeying for power are notoriously centred on personal loyalties. (Southern African Report)

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