Do congress par­ties have propen­sity to split?

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Ut­loang Ka­jeno

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.

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