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Why the ABC collapsed spectacularly at the polls

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Sam Matekane-led Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party’s stunning election victory was achieved at the expense of established parties like the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Democratic Congress (DC), Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Movement for Economic Change (MEC).

Of these, the ABC flopped spectacularly. Having won 48 constituency seats in the 2017 elections to become the lead party in the subsequent governing coalitions which were formed in June 2017 and May 2020 respectively, the ABC, now led by former cabinet minister, Nkaku Kabi, crashed to its worst ever defeat as it failed to win a single constituency this time around.

Were it not for the controversial proportional representation (PR) system, the ABC would have sunk into total oblivion.  Thanks to the PR system, the once formidable party has eight seats which will enable it to take its place among the opposition in parliament when the august house is convened.

Spectacular as its collapse has been, analysts say it is not at all surprising given that the ABC spent the past five years in intractable infighting and power struggles instead of addressing pressing socio-economic challenges facing the country.

Even as the nation bemoaned rampant killings and condemned criminals, Mr Kabi inexplicably chose to flaunt his close ties with feared Famo gangs who were accused of violent crimes. All this and rampant corruption as well as poor service delivery under the ABC’s watch, contributed to the party’s dismal showing at the polls, analysts said.

National University of Lesotho (NUL) political science lecturer, Tlohang Letsie, said the ABC’s downward spiral began when the party created a personality cult by turning founding leader, Thomas Thabane, into a demi-god.

“The party could not correct him (Thabane) when he was in the wrong; challenging him was seen as tantamount to challenging the party itself. The party did not have a succession plan and even after Thabane was forced to step down as prime minister, he remained in charge of the party. The party was engrossed in power struggles and factionalism. Many people also turned their backs on the party because of its association with Famo gangs,” Dr Letsie said.

This was in reference to Mr Kabi’s stubborn refusal to dissociate from the Famo gang led by Sarele ‘Lehlanya’ Sello even after the South African police had issued arrest warrants for the latter and four of his lieutenants for the gruesome killings of 16 patrons at a Soweto tavern in July this year. The Famo gangs have also been accused of murders and other violent crimes in Lesotho. But despite all this, Mr Kabi continued to hobnob with them and hailed them for allegedly recruiting over 40 000 new members to his party.

Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) director, Tsikoane Peshoane, said the ABC dug its own grave through its penchant for infighting which spawned various splinter parties like the Teboho Mojapela-led Socialist Revolutionaries, Professor Nqosa Mahao’s Basotho Action Party (BAP), and Tefo Mapesela’s Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP).

“The ABC is being punished for its failure to run its affairs as expected,” Mr Peshoane said.

“Conflicts between the party’s national executive committee (NEC) and outgoing Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, who was also a member of the party, proved detrimental to both the party and the outgoing government.

“Kabi’s relationship with the Famo gangs also played a huge part in the ABC’s poor performance at the polls. While Kabi may not have been able to wish the gangs away, he shouldn’t have gone out of its way to defend them when they were fingered in criminal activities locally and in South Africa. No one wanted to be associated with them,” Mr Peshoane said.

South Africa based intelligence and security analyst, Nhlanhla Moyo, attributed the ABC’s collapse to “divisions and factionalism in the ABC which worsened after Thabane was forced to step down as prime minister (in May 2020)”.

“Even when Thabane was premier, the ABC government did not cover itself in glory. Corruption was so brazen with the likes of senior party officials like Chalane Phori fighting over government tenders. The looting of Covid-19 funds under the National Emergency Command Centre and the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) did not do the ABC’s image any good.

“The election of Kabi as party leader ahead of Majoro heightened factionalism within the ABC and the party never healed from these divisions. Both the Thabane and Majoro administrations failed to combat crime. Even as Basotho were complaining about rampant crimes, Kabi would be seen campaigning with suspected criminals and hosting them at his rallies,” Mr Moyo said.

Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) executive director, Seabata Motsamai, said although the ABC collapsed in a single day at the polls, its demise was long in the making. The poor showing at the polls was the culmination of “a series of blunders and missteps” by the once mighty party, he said.

“The ABC’s decline began when Thabane clashed with senior party members who accused him of handing over the running of the party and government to his wife, ‘Maesaiah Thabane.

“Thabane subsequently fell out with the party’s NEC over its support for Prof Mahao who had been elected deputy leader in February 2019. Even after Prof Mahao’s departure last year, the power struggles continued because Thabane, who had been forced to step down as premier, supported Kabi over Prime Minister Majoro. This fractured the party and dragged it into non-functionality. Ordinary ABC members were watching all this and getting disgruntled,” Mr Motsamai said.

He said the ABC went for the elections as a fractured party and therefore its dismal performance was not surprising at all.

“It is possible that many supporters did not go to vote or they opted for the newly-formed Revolution for Prosperity or the DC.

“Another reason why the ABC was punished at the polls is that they did not show any interest in implementing the reforms. The party did not seem to be concerned with the issues that people raised during the reforms process,” Mr Motsamai said.

Another political analyst, Lefu Thaela, said while an ABC defeat was expected, “no one would have thought it would suffer such a crushing defeat”.

“I expected the ABC to get at least 10 constituencies but its performance was a total disaster. The fall of the ABC could be attributed to a number of factors including its arrogance and failure to address its internal contradictions.

“The party also gave mixed signals to its followers whenever they needed answers to party and national issues. Their members felt undermined and unwelcome. The failure by the ABC-led government to deliver services also contributed to its downfall. People felt let down by the party they once looked up to.

“The ABC’s association with the fearsome Famo gangs could have contributed to its dismal performance. Voters feared that they would be ruled by the notorious gangsters. So, when Sam Matekane came onto the political scene, he was seen as a saviour and an epitome of hope by many. People are frustrated by the high unemployment in Lesotho and other social ills such as nepotism and corruption. They are also tired of the old parties and want someone who can be sympathetic to their problems. The fate of the ABC is a very good lesson for the incoming coalition government. If they don’t deliver they will be punished at the polls next time,” Mr Thaela said.