Elections in 2015 | Lesotho

18 May 2015 | Harriet Doughty

Harriet Doughty graduated cum laude with a Master’s in International Relations at Leiden Universiteit, The Netherlands, in 2013 and now works for TTL, a small paediatric care facility in the highlands of Lesotho in southern Africa.

Harriet writes about the elections in Lesotho earlier this year as part of our Election 2015 series.

Mokhotlong ABC Rally on February 2nd 2015

Harriet at the All Basotho Convention (ABC) Rally in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, February 2nd 2015.

On August 31st 2014, members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) opened fire on the country’s police officers, attacked police stations and surrounded the residence of the then-Prime Minister Tom Thabane. Mister Thabane is the party leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC). The LDF is the country’s army and air force and was led by General Lieutenant General Tlali Komoli at the time, who has reputed loyalties to Thabane’s fierce political rival, Mothetjoa Metsing. Metsing and Kamoli were under investigation into whether they had received benefits in exchange for helping to award a major road construction project, an investigation that pre-dated the attempted coup.

In June 2014 Lesotho’s anticorruption body accessed Metsing’s bank accounts against his wishes and asked him to explain several large deposits. Metsing claimed the ongoing investigation was a political witch-hunt led by Thabane, however, reports have surfaced that LDF soldiers stole and destroyed documents related to Metsing and Komoli’s corruption case from the police station attacked during the attempted coup. Metsing has also been stripped of his title as Deputy Prime Minister by Thabane two days before the attempted coup.

The gun battle in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, left one police officer dead and all incriminating documents of Metsing and his supporters stolen. Warned of a possible assassination attempt, Thabane fled to South Africa before the LDF supporters had surrounded his residence. Mediation efforts led by the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), eventually returned the prime minister to Lesotho in early September under the protection of South African police. A month later, pushed by South Africa’s Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, Thabane announced his intentions to bring forward the general election from June 2017 to February 28 2015. However, despite Thabane’s reopening of Parliament and promise for an early election, aggravations between the political elite failed to end there. Small skirmishes and frictions between the police and the army were reported in local newspapers throughout the following six months. General Komoli went into hiding and rumours flittered across the country as to where he had gone. His forces reportedly broke into police stations and stole all of Lesotho’s ammunition and weaponry, stripping the police force of their defence. For a short while the country’s police force resigned from their position, claiming they felt unprepared and unarmed for the threat that faced them.

On February 1, LDF soldiers opened fire on two of Thabane’s bodyguards outside the Royal Palace in Maseru, heavily injuring the two men who had supposedly tipped off the prime minister ahead of the 2014 attempted coup. The attack also left one security guard dead in the crossfire. These two men were taken to Bloemfontein Hospital (just across the border in South Africa) for treatment in fear that they would be attacked by pro-Komoli forces at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Maseru. However, such safety precautions were insufficient because attempts were still made of both men’s lives whilst lying in ICU at Bloemfontein Hospital.

This attempted ‘military coup’ was a culmination of months of political uncertainty and unrest in Lesotho. Thabane had closed Parliament in June 2014 and he had been under constant pressure by Metsing’s supporters to reopen it. Thabane made promises to do so and failed to keep them, explaining that he felt it was still too risky to resume. However, his actions led his adversaries to retaliate, concluding in forcing Thabane to announce an early election in February 2015. The issues surrounding this whole affair were almost entirely contained to political elite- those fighting for power and reluctant to relinquish the ‘old ways of government’. The streets of Maseru remained relatively calm throughout the whole saga and towns in rural Lesotho were hardly touched by political uncertainty. Information was kept purposefully vague, with different information on Komoli’s whereabouts coming across the radio daily.

2 Feb 2015 ABC rally Mokhotlong

The ABC rally in Mokhotlong in eastern Lesotho was well attended. Photography – Harriet Doughty

Lesotho gained independence in 1966, and in its short national history the country has experience the entire spectrum of military coup, attempted coup, constitutional suspension, state of emergency, and contested election. Although the last four elections were generally seen by outside observers as peaceful and democratic, the memory of political and military upheaval is still fresh. Thabane was stripped of his position as Prime Minister in March 2015 and Lesotho is now run by the Democratic Congress (DC), under Prime Minister Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili. The Democratic Congress were in power from May 1998 to June 2012, when they were ousted by the ABC. It was under the charge of the DC party that corruption was rife in Lesotho and Metsing was meant to have committed his crimes under the party’s protection. However, with the documents incriminating Metsing missing there is no proof to that charge. Let’s see what the next five years bring…

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