Do congress parties have propensity to split?
OF all the major political formations in Lesotho, be they to the right, left or centre of the political ideology, arguably the one that has the major propensity to break-up into splinter parties, is the Congress movement.
Whether this is innate, due to political immaturity, intolerance, robust discourse, the huge following of the congress ideology or to some reason, it is for political scientists and commentators to debate and draw conclusions.
Lest I be misquoted, I am not arguing that the congress formation is the only political ideology that has experienced splinter parties but merely arguing that in comparison to the other political ideologies to the centre or right of the congress movement, the latter has over the decades and since the new democratic dispensation in Lesotho, experienced the highest number or break-ups. And I dare say, barring a miracle, yet another one is looming.
The purpose of this column is to trace the fractured history of the ideology that, together with the nationalist, form the bedrock of our political landscape. No stereotyping is intended if only to stress the sharp political divide.
Surprisingly, as if by design, the reader will realize in the subsequent expose that most of the time when in opposition to the incumbent government, the congress parties are at their lethal strongest and very united, but once in government, the congress parties, even if in government is led by a single congress party, have the propensity to split and indeed often, they do end up splitting. The following is a chronological analysis of these splinter parties in the congress movement.
Chronological background The new democratic dispensation in Lesotho was introduced as far back as 1993 after a period of military rule from 1986. Prior to that, between 1970 and 1986, Lesotho was a de facto one-party state.
In the general elections of 1993, the newly-unbanned Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) under the leadership of the late Dr Ntsu Mokhehle won a landslide victory losing only one seat across the whole country.
Almost immediately after being swept to power in that election there emerged signs of bitter infighting within the now ruling BCP.
This culminated in a protracted series of litigation that were lodged by disgruntled elements within the BCP arguing that the now ageing leader had by operation of the party’s strict membership rules, ceased to be a member and therefore leader of the BCP and by extension, the then incumbent government.
Apparently irked by the open revolt within his own party’s ranks about the legality of his leadership, Dr Mokhehle called on the remaining party loyalists to, loosely translated, “turn their backs” on his enemies but his erstwhile allies in government and party.
In what was later to become the modus operandi of all congress splinter parties, the two factions of the splinter groups formed what was famously called a “pressure group”.
LCD era During the government of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), yet another congress splinter party broke-away from the LCD though with not much popular following as the previous congress parties, the Lesotho People’s Congress ( LPC) was therefore born in 2001.
In a move reminiscent of the modus operandi of the previous breakups, the leader of the LPC, Advocate Kelebone Maope, was widely quoted as saying in the media, that his erstwhile fellow congress allies were “gluttons”.
This is a literal translation. He charged that he had never in his then short political career worked with politicians who would not have the decency and audacity to say they have to quote him: “taken more than enough from the public purse”.
A new kid on the congress block was thus formed by disgruntled loyalists.
The ABC is formed Critically, in the year 2006, there occurred the first of the two major political earthquakes in the congress movement, namely the floorcrossing of 17 sitting LCD Members of Parliament to form yet another congress splinter party in the name of the All Basotho Convention (ABC). This party is led by Thomas Thabane.
I am referring to their formation as the proverbial political earthquake because, unlike the other congress splinter parties, it later in 2012, became such a major political force that it had grown phenomenally to form a tripartite coalition government, albeit short-lived, with the remainder of the LCD party and the Basotho National Party (BNP).
The ABC was to later grow to roughly equal the same large following as the Democratic Congress (DC) with virtually the same number of first-past-the-post constituency seats and numerical following countrywide.
It is perhaps appropriate at this juncture to talk about the new kid on the block that had an equally seismic proportions as the ABC in its formation, the DC.
Formation of DC Three months prior to the calling of a general election in 2012, a new kid on the ever-splinting congress political bloc was born with seismic ramifications.
I am talking about the formation of the Democratic Congress (DC) by disgruntled ruling LCD members led by Dr. Pakalitha Mosisili.
They merely crossed the floor in the august house to form the DC and had the Speaker declare them in Parliament as the new government.
Prior to the formation of the DC there was serious infighting within the LCD with the formation of two warring factions called “fire-eaters” and “fire-extinguishers” that is loosely translated.
The infighting was apparently prompted by the disagreement between the party’s president, Pakalitha Mosisili, and the Secretary-General Mothetjoa Metsing, who later became leader of the LCD.
Dr Mosisili was to later publicly remark on being forced to leave the LCD saying: “Bickering, remain there, as we are moving forward”.
It was after the 2012 general election that the DC and other smaller splinter congress parties were voted out of office by the tripartite coalition of ABC, LCD and BNP.
This coalition however, due to intense infighting mainly between the ABC and LCD finally collapsed in 2015.
This led to the formation of the current unprecedented seven-party coalition government led by the DC; the result of a snap general election.
Enter the RCL Prior to the snap general election of 2015, there again emerged more infighting within the LCD. This time, with Mr Metsing at the helm, he fought a bitter war with the LCD’S Secretary-general, the position he previously held while ousting Mr Mosisili as leader of the LDC. This bitter row led to Kekeletso Rantšo, the first woman to lead a major political party, to form the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
This party touted itself publicly as espous- ing the new congress ideology in a reformed way but in line with the ideals of the congress movement’s founding father and ideologue, Dr Mokhehle. It vehemently accused all the other congress parties of having deviated from the original congress ideology and ideals.
Though the RCL is in a tripartite alliance in opposition against the incumbent, sevenparty coalition government, with the much popular ABC and the iconic BNP, though with a much diminished following, the RCL has yet to establish itself and carve a niche for itself nationally as a serious political party vying for power to govern Lesotho. Looming DC break-up and
potential splits Fast forward to 2016, and the youth league leadership of the major party in the coalition government the DC, recently skipped the country allegedly in fear of their lives after having blown the whistle on an alleged bribery scandal.
The leaders have since returned home. The bribery allegations involve the procurement procedure and tendering of a multi-million maloti motor vehicle supply and maintenance contract to a South African company.
As we go to print this infighting, precipi-
tated by yet another infighting between the DC-YL and the DC Women’s League President, under the “Lirurubele” (butterflies) and “Lithope” (girlfriends) threatens to split the DC right down the middle.
It is proving increasingly difficult for the party leader to hold the DC together as a single united party.
In the words of the congress founding father, Dr Mokhehle. “The congress movement is like a huge boulder rolling down the mountain, leaving in its wake several fragments and pieces for everyone to collect.”
The question is: will the congress movement disintegrate and self-destruct to minor fragments and finally to oblivion? Were Dr Mokhehle’s words an omen?
You the reader, be the judge. Political commentators and analysts can draw possible conclusions.