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Why ABC lost the elections



MASERU – THE All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s thumping defeat in the election last week could have dealt the party a massive blow from which it might never recover.

The party is now down 200 000 votes and 40 seats. It did not win a single constituency.

Eight compensatory seats are all it has to show for its efforts.

So spectacular was the collapse that even the leader Nkaku Kabi did not win in his constituency. Other stalwarts also bit the dust.

Whichever way you look at it, the party faces an uncertain future. And it has only itself to blame for the remarkable demise.

Incessant internal squabbles were the biggest cause of its undoing. Having failed to manage its succession, the party embarked on a path to self-emolition.

Thomas Thabane, its founder and former leader, should take the blame for swinging the hammer that delivered the most fatal blows on the party.

He held on to power for too long and stubbornly refused to let internal democracy prevail when it was time to go.

Instead of taking the back seat in the race to replace him Thabane repeatedly interfered, pretending to be neutral but playing for one of the teams. His undemocratic tendencies put off even some of the party’s staunchest supporters.

By the time Kabi took over, the ABC was damaged goods. His spirited campaign in the weeks preceding the election could not turn the tide.

Thabane had created a monumental mess that was killing the party slowly.

His first mistake was to wage a war to block Nqosa Mahao’s election as his deputy leader. In so doing, he was tearing the ABC constitution and antagonising a significant bloc in the party.

Thabane refused to work with Mahao and resorted to political chicanery to frustrate him.

A frivolous court case was launched to nullify Mahao’s victory. Thabane might not have been the face of that lawsuit but he sure gave his blessing.

When that failed Thabane became belligerent and refused to work with Mahao.

Mahao eventually left to form the Basotho Action Party (BAP), taking with him a significant chunk of ABC supporters and MPs.

Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro replaced Mahao but Thabane and his hawks immediately leapt on him. It became clear that Thabane was not holding on to power for his preferred candidate but for himself. He was the team he was fighting for.

Majoro was hounded out of the party but refused to let go of the premiership.

It was a decision that would haunt the party for months and eventually play a role in the party’s poor showing in the election.

Instead of extending the olive branch and mitigating the damage, Kabi and his supporters sharpened their knives against Majoro and his government.

When their ill-conceived move to topple Majoro’s government in parliament failed, Kabi and his executive pulled out the ABC from the government.

It was a pyrrhic victory because it did not change anything.

Majoro continued to rule with the remaining ABC MPs who were ministers and saw no incentive in toppling the government. The Democratic Congress (DC) also provided a buffer that insulated Majoro from Kabi’s manoeuvres.

As the elections approached Kabi realised the mistake of alienating Majoro.

Majoro refused to give him access to the state resources that could have oiled his campaign. Bereft of the means that come with being the incumbent, Kabi had to scrounge around.

He became so desperate that he received dirty money from the famo music gangs loathed by many because of their heinous crimes.

It didn’t help that he did not have any positives to point at to justify his pleas for a fresh mandate from the people. Under the ABC corruption and unemployment had worsened. Nepotism and cronyism were the order of the day.

Billions of state funds had been pilfered by civil servants under the ABC’s watch. Roads were poked with potholes and infrastructure crumbled.

Hunger had exacerbated to make a mockery of the ABC’s election promise to eradicate it. Basotho were living in fear because of violent crimes.

The police were not only corrupt but also poorly equipped to deal with the scourge of crime. The government was so broke that it failed to pay suppliers and delayed civil servants’ salaries.

The economic transformation the ABC fervently promised had failed to materialise.

To the angry voters, it did not matter that the bulk of the government’s financial troubles had been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that had shaken almost every economy in the world.

True, the company closures, especially in the textile industry, had emptied thousands onto the streets.

Granted, the lockdowns had affected the government’s revenues. True, Lesotho’s share of the Southern African Customs Union revenues was at its lowest in years.

Yet none of those explanations would have resonated with the voters who had long convinced themselves that the ABC was to blame for their economic problems.

Kabi was up against a perception that had been concretised.

It did not help that Kabi is not a gifted orator and lacks the charisma of Thabane in his prime. He might have schemed his way to the top but he could not talk his way into the voters’ hearts.

Kabi could not fill Thabane’s outsized boots. The lack of a clear campaign message only made things worse.

Without Thabane, his political godfather, to handhold him, Kabi was at sea. He struggled to find his voice and made schoolboy blunders.

His attempts to ingratiate himself with the dangerous famo gangs was political suicide.

Yet the voters might still have forgiven the ABC were it not for other monumental mistakes committed by its government.

One of the biggest bungles was the government’s inept handling of the wool and mohair industry.

They railroaded an ill-advised policy to localise the industry by giving Stone Shi, a Chinese national, the monopoly to buy wool and mohair from the farmers.

The decision would not have been as infuriating if Shi had played fair with the farmers.

The government however continued to force the farmers to sell their fibre to Shi even as it became clear that he was broke, his business model unworkable and scamming the poor farmers.

When the farmers resisted the injustice, the government set the police on them. Some of its ministers vowed to punish farmers who refused to sell to Shi.

By the time sense prevailed and the policy was reversed, thousands of farmers were on their knees. Their flocks had dissipated and bank accounts were empty.

To make up for its mistake the government settled some of Shi’s debts to the farmers. But the damage had been done. The rural voters were infuriated and itching to punish the ABC at the polls.

The legal troubles of Thabane and his wife only deepened the animosity towards the ABC. The two might be off the hook for the 2017 murder of Lipolelo Thabane but the case remains alive.

Thabane’s wife, Maesiah, was vile with both her character and mouth. She gave the impression she was running the government on Thabane’s behalf.

Whether this was a myth or lie, Thabane did nothing to refute it. She would harangue senior government officials and ministers for incompetence.

When she was not injecting herself into government and party matters, she was misusing her newfound status as the first lady.

She brawled with a woman at a local hospital. A waiter at a lodge was tongue lashed for delaying her drinks. A young man who mistakenly called Thabane was frog-marched to the State House to be whipped by Maesiah and her friends.

Within just a few months she had become the most hated woman in Lesotho and her husband suffered for it.

When Mahao broke away it looked like his party was the sanctuary that embittered ABC supporters were looking for. And for some months it looked as if the BAP was going to be the biggest beneficiary of the ABC fiasco.

Then out of the blue came Sam Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) and Lesotho’s political establishment went into a tailspin.

Kabi looked paralysed as the RFP grew. Unlike other political leaders, he didn’t seem to have jabs against the RFP. His party was reeling.

It’s still sliding and its death beckons.

Unless something dramatic happens over the next five years the ABC’s tombstone will read: “Here lies a party that contrived to kill itself. A party that squandered massive goodwill and buried itself”.

A mouthful but true all the same.

Staff Reporter


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