By Marafaele Mohloboli

A Lesotho party led by a diamond magnate won the most seats in last week’s election, but fell short of an overall majority, the election commission said on Monday, raising the prospect of more political gridlock.
The populist Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party emerged as the single biggest party with 56 seats, but now needs to court other groups to control the southern African mountain kingdom’s 120-member parliament. Should RFP, formed by wealthy businessman Sam Matekane in March, secure control of a majority in parliament through coalitions, it would pave the way for the first change in government there in more than five years. Lesotho has been marred by years of political instability under the current governing party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), which has run the country of 2.14 million people since 2017. Divisions within the party have given it two prime ministers over that time.
RFP has promised to do away with rampant corruption and nepotism and focus on economic growth by leveling the playing field for businesses. “Matekane’s victory is a clear picture that Basotho (the people of Lesotho) are tired of people who do not deliver when in power,” political analyst Lefu Thaela said as the votes were being counted on Sunday night with the RFP taking a strong lead.
The election went ahead despite a deadlock in parliament on a whole gamut of major constitutional reforms that were meant to be enacted ahead of the vote in order to bring order to the country’s fractious politics. In Lesotho’s national assembly, 80 seats are won through “first-past-the-post” voting and the rest allocated using proportional representation, under which parties get seats based on their total national votes.

‘I am very disappointed’
Speaking to Reuters before polls opened, Lesotho political analyst Lefu Thaela said he thought the ruling ABC would lose the elections and that “the DC and RFP will be neck-and-neck”. Thaela said the DC was likely to get the most votes but if it didn’t win an outright majority, the outgoing ABC could emerge as kingmaker. Despite the vibrant range of parties, some voters were decidedly unexcited by the options open to them at the ballot box. “Truth be told, no government has ever fulfilled my aspirations and I am very disappointed,” Semoko Monare, who has been voting since 1993, said. Surrounded on all sides by South African mountains, Lesotho’s high-altitude springs provide vital freshwater to its parched neighbour, supplying the commercial hub Johannesburg. In 2020, ABC leader Thomas Thabane stepped down as prime minister after being charged with the murder of his ex-wife. He denied any wrongdoing, and the charges were later dropped. His successor, Moeketsi Majoro, declared a state of emergency in August after lawmakers failed to pass constitutional reforms to amend everything from the role of political parties and rules on floor-crossing in parliament to the appointment of senior officials and the prime minister’s role. The reforms were meant to make Lesotho less prone to political logjams but got stuck in one, themselves. Lesotho has seen four coups since independence from Britain, and occasional bouts of unrest have forced South Africa to send in troops to restore order – most recently in 2014 and 1998. However, analysts and participants expect these elections, even if close and highly contested, not to trigger street battles. “These have been very peaceful elections and we are not expecting any violence but for everyone to accept the results,” deputy DC leader Motlalentoa Letsosa said. Last month, Lesotho’s highest court ruled that the state of emergency was unconstitutional. The ABC has selected another leader, former health minister Nkaku Kabi, to contest its ticket. –

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