Ru­ral ver­sus ur­ban vote

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Ma­hao Ma­hao

DUR­ING the fi­nal ral­lies on the Sun­day lead­ing to the 2015 Na­tional As­sem­bly elec­tions, a col­league told me he had done the rounds to as­sess the num­ber of peo­ple who at­tended three po­lit­i­cal ral­lies: those of the All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC), the Demo­cratic Congress (DC) and the Le­sotho Congress for Democ­racy (LCD).

Our in­ter­est was mainly fo­cused on the ABC and DC ral­lies since the two had ob­vi­ously emerged as the main con­tenders lead­ing up to the polls. Some rather mock­ing pic­tures posted on so­cial me­dia of the LCD rally had al­ready con­demned the party as a com­peti­tor not to be taken se­ri­ously. Com­par­isons were made with their fi­nal rally in 2012 and this year’s which was hugely dis­ap­point­ing.

The sub­se­quent an­nounce­ment of the elec­tion re­sults have de­picted a party de­gen­er­at­ing into a shadow of its for­mer glory. No doubt the LCD is now a se­ri­ously wounded beast and all four legs are limp­ing badly.

They emerge from the elec­tion con­test bruised, bat­tered and hu­mil­i­ated, and may ul­ti­mately find it hard to rise from the ashes. A spec­tac­u­lar down­ward spi­ral can be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to re­verse. At some point in fu­ture, the LCD may un­will­ingly have to seek ad­vice from the Ba­sotho Na­tional Party on how they fi­nally found a for­mula to re­vive their mis­for­tunes.

Go­ing back to the ral­lies, my col­league de­clared that in his ob­ser­va­tion, the ABC’S was the largest fol­lowed by that of the DC. We then tried to an­a­lyse what that could mean in terms of the pos­si­ble out­come of the elec­tion re­sults. I told him to ex­er­cise some cau­tion as far as the two ral­lies were con­cerned.

Firstly, all the ral­lies were held in Maseru, an ur­ban cen­tre, where ABC sup­port­ers have a ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence. I also brought to the col­league’s at­ten­tion the fact that if ABC sup­port­ers were called to as­sem­ble — even at short no­tice — any­where in Maseru (which isn’t that far from places like Berea, also with a huge ABC sup­port-base) they would fill up the venue al­most im­me­di­ately.

Se­condly, the DC’S main sup­port, as pre­vi­ous (and this year’s) elec­tion re­sults have demon­strated, now thrives on the pe­riph­eries of the main ur­ban cen­tres. This, there­fore, means for many DC fol­low­ers, a trip to a rally held at Ha Foso would be very long and phys­i­cally tax­ing; one of the rea­sons they prob­a­bly don’t bother due to the vast dis­tances.

It’s the kind of stress they sim­ply can­not put up with even if trans­port is avail­able for free. Although the ABC won three more con­stituen­cies than their main com­peti­tor, the fact they were pipped in the popular vote af­firms that even if the DC’S sup­port may not be that vis­i­ble in the main ur­ban-held ral­lies, the rugged ter­rain of Le­sotho still har­bours them in mul­ti­tudes.

Now let us, for a mo­ment, imag­ine some­thing rather silly where a ru­ral vote and an ur­ban vote are given a price tag. Which one would fetch a higher price on the mar­ket? To be more pre­cise, be­tween Tom Tha­bane and Pakalitha Mo­sisili, who should be hap­pier for get­ting more ur­ban and ru­ral votes re­spec­tively? Let us start by com­par­ing the two sets of vot­ers.

This anal­y­sis does not, in any way, as­sume that all ru­ral or ur­ban vot­ers have the same out­look but for a party to win a con­stituency, it has to be pro­pelled to victory by the ma­jor­ity with a sim­i­lar mind­set; pro­vided there is no rig­ging in­volved.

Start­ing with the ru­ral voter, we see some­one who is much sim­pler and there­fore eas­ier to please. Mat­ters like free pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, old age pen­sion and a foot­bridge con­nect­ing two vil­lages are usu­ally ad­e­quate. Whether they lack jobs and can­not feed the same chil­dren who at­tend school for free is usu­ally in­signif­i­cant. Some will not even be able to judge the qual­ity of the ed­u­ca­tion on of­fer.

Don’t for­get, free pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion and old age pen­sion came dur­ing Dr Mo­sisili’s pre­vi­ous 14-year reign and helped ce­ment deep loy­alty to him among the ru­ral folks. They are also more gullible and most likely to cling to the congress and na­tion­al­ist divide which some lead­ers en­joy prop­a­gat­ing.

Con­front some of them on what a real congress ide­ol­ogy is in con­trast to a na­tion­al­ist one and they (to­gether with some of their lead­ers) will mum­ble some­thing un­in­tel­li­gi­ble. Re­mem­ber also that the av­er­age ru­ral voter is far less street­wise about events and sys­tems else­where in the world to make an in­formed com­par­i­son with their own en­vi­ron­ment. If they spin in a cir­cu­lar move­ment, the hori­zon they see in front is all some of them are familiar with.

In­sin­cere politi­cians also prey on the naivety of the ru­ral voter. This is where all sorts of lies and pro­pa­ganda can be spread. Any silly threat that free pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion and old age pen­sions will be stopped if they vote for a par­tic­u­lar party is likely to send most ru­ral vot­ers into se­ri­ous panic; cloud­ing their judg­ment in the process.the ur­ban voter on the other hand is sur­rounded by an avalanche of in­for­ma­tion in the form of ra­dio (not one but many sta­tions), tele­vi­sion, news­pa­pers, in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia and more in­formed in­ter­ac­tions among them.

Most of them can tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween fact and pro­pa­ganda and can dis­cern with ease when­ever their lead­ers lie to them. Th­ese peo­ple can never be told that a com­puter “sees” who they vote for and can re­voke their pen­sions if they tick the “wrong” sym­bol on the bal­lot pa­per.

Even though some lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions are clearly one-sided, a smart ur­ban res­i­dent can eas­ily dis­cern the bias and even mock­ingly laugh at the naivety of the pre­sen­ters and those at the helm of such sta­tions.

Be­sides be­ing highly in­formed (and this is very im­por­tant) the ur­ban vot­ers con­trib­ute the most in taxes to gov­ern­ment cof­fers, mainly through Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and their vast pur­chas­ing power.

They are, there­fore, much more crit­i­cal and de­mand­ing and want a gov­ern­ment that ac­counts for ev­ery cent as they know just how much they part with to en­able gov­ern­ment ser­vices to main­tain their op­er­a­tions.

They give their sup­port when they think the gov­ern­ment de­serves it and can also with­draw it if they feel those gov­ern­ing them have gone off the rails. This ex­plains why par­ties al­ways first lose pop­u­lar­ity in the ur­ban ar­eas.

Those who doubt what I am say­ing here should ask those gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who – in 2006 — thought they could get away with steal­ing public cars at the ridicu­lous price of the cheap­est lap­top. The ur­ban res­i­dents taught the then rul­ing party a hard-to-for­get les­son and the deep po­lit­i­cal wounds in­flicted af­ter that still show no sign of heal­ing, al­most 10 years af­ter the out­ra­geous act.

Many ur­ban folks know too well the pain and sac­ri­fice of ser­vic­ing a car in­stall­ment over many years and sim­ply could not ac­cept to main­tain a busi­ness as usual ap­proach when gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials made a joke out of a car pur­chase.

Ur­ban folks are usu­ally quick to re­act ei­ther neg­a­tively or pos­i­tively to sit­u­a­tions when fac­tors ne­ces­si­tate such. If their lead­ers pay at­ten­tion to their crit­i­cisms, such lead­ers can be pro­fes­sion­ally helped to im­prove their lead­er­ship skills and avoid many pit­falls on the usu­ally bumpy road of pol­i­tics.

As Simon Al­li­son, The Daily Mav­er­ick’s Africa cor­re­spon­dent wrote af­ter the elec­tion, the ur­ban vot­ers are clos­est to the gov­ern­ment and can tell if it is or isn’t work­ing. In other words they can tell if they are be­ing gov­erned prop­erly.

This was in di­rect ref­er­ence to the over­whelm­ing sup­port that Dr Tha­bane’s ABC has en­joyed in the ur­ban cen­tres. But at the end of the day, the ru­ral voter (al­beit with as­sis­tance from a con­sor­tium of seven par­ties) has had the last say in who ul­ti­mately as­sumes the reins.

But whether ru­ral or ur­ban, all res­i­dents must en­joy equal rights, en­ti­tle­ments and cit­i­zen­ship of this coun­try. Some of my friends and col­leagues though, could not swallow the fact that their ru­ral coun­ter­parts have an equal say in who gov­erns them de­spite the fact they con­trib­ute more in taxes to help prop up de­liv­ery of ser­vices even to those ru­ral ar­eas whose tax base is so small.

An ex­treme sug­ges­tion made out of frus­tra­tion has been to phys­i­cally slice Le­sotho in half and al­low the ru­ral folks to choose their own pre­ferred Prime Min­is­ter.

So, which vote is more ex­pen­sive: ru­ral or ur­ban? You de­cide.

Ma­hao Ma­hao is a lec­turer in the Fac­ulty of Ed­u­ca­tion at the Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Le­sotho. The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle ARE THE Au­thor's own AND Do not re­flect the view of the

ABOVE: DC sup­port­ers and (be­low) their ABC coun­ter­parts.

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