MASERU — Are they happy with the status quo or do they want change?
That is the question the people of Hololo 2, Mpharane 61 and Sebapala 66 constituencies will have to answer when they cast their ballots in the by-elections on May 22.
It’s a crucial question that Lesotho’s political parties want answered as that might give them a glimpse into what the 2012 general election holds for them.
A victory for the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) will indicate that the people in these constituencies still have confidence in the ruling party.
A win for any of the opposition parties would indicate that the tables have probably turned and maybe — just maybe — that will be the beginning of the movement towards broader change.
But then politics is not that simple. It can’t always be measured in terms of victory and defeats.
There are fundamental messages in vote numbers.
The LCD walloped the opposition in all three constituencies in the 2007 general election.
Although there were many candidates and parties in that election the real battle was between the LCD and the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party which at that time was barely half-a-year old.
In Hololo 2 the LCD won 46.4 percent of the votes, with the ABC coming a distant second with 28 percent.
In Mpharane 61 the LCD took 64 percent of the votes while the ABC got 22 percent.
The margin of victory for the LCD was even bigger in Sebapala where the ruling party got 67 percent votes against the ABC’s 10 percent.
The Basotho National Party (BNP) was a distant third in the three constituencies.
The figures were a clear sign that the LCD was dominant in those areas.
Yet three years have passed since that election and the dynamics might have totally changed.
Politicians will be watching those numbers closely.
Never mind that, unlike in a general election, by-elections rarely swing.
The numbers are useful in gauging the national mood though.
They tell political stories too.
When the results are announced on May 24, barring any logistical hiccups, the numbers will either tell a story of a ruling party that has consolidated its grip or an opposition that has made significant inroads into the rural constituencies that are dominated by the LCD.
It might be a story of a ruling party that has fallen out of favour with the people or an opposition that has turned the tables.
That story might define how the main parties will campaign in the next general election.
In the meantime the battle for hearts and minds has begun.
Battle lines have been drawn.
As Election Day draws closer, the Sunday Express has launched a special series on the candidates in the three constituencies.
This week we spoke to LCD, BNP and ABC candidates for Sebapala to find out why they think they deserve to be voted into parliament.
Kabelo Mafura, the man representing the LCD, says he believes the people of Sebapala will vote for him.
Three weeks ago Mafura, a former diplomat, quit his proportional representation seat in parliament saying he needed to be voted into parliament to have legitimacy.
After being defeated by four votes in the LCD’s primary elections in 2007 Mafura was rewarded with the compensatory seat in parliament.
The idea was that he would work with Matseliso Monyakane who had just been elected.
But, because of power struggles, the relationship didn’t work and Mafura was to have some of his projects rejected by Monyakane.
“That frustrated me greatly and I learnt that to achieve your goals as an MP you have to be the main MP who is voted into office,” Mafura says.
So when Monyakane passed away Mafura decided to take the risk of leaving his PR seat to be voted in as a “real MP”.
And he is confident that the people of Sebapala are behind him.
He insists that the people have promised “they will not forsake” him.
“The LCD already has the constituency and we have made headway in terms of development,” Mafura says.
He says the LCD’s projects like free primary education and old-age pensions will give him an edge.
“We have free health services for the sick,” he adds.
Added to that, Mafura says, is the fact that the party already has strong structures in the constituency.
The people would not want to start from scratch with other parties, he says.
“Nobody here has anything better to say about the ABC or any other party,” Mafura says.
“Let me have you know that it was only recently when the ABC held a rally here.
“People know nothing about the party.”
He cites the creation of jobs and the building of roads as his biggest and most urgent tasks once he gets the vote.
“Quthing is the only district in Lesotho where you find a high-quality aloe plant. I will push for job creation through the extraction of the aloe sap and its sales,” Mafura says.
The BNP candidate, Teboho Seholoholo, says the “widely held view that Sebapala is an LCD stronghold will be debunked on May 22”.
The 2007 election results were molested in favour of the ruling party, he alleges.
“The LCD has absolutely no hold on Sebapala,” he says.
“In 2007 the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) deliberately distorted the results in favour of the LCD and gave the ABC prominence as well.
“Internal and external audit reports done after the elections proved that the LCD had cheated.
“Even the LCD candidate was shocked by the outcome and she confessed that she did not expect it.
“Therefore, it is wrong to define Sebapala as an LDC stronghold.”
Seholoholo makes bold claims about the BNP’s chances in Sebapala.
“The people of Sebapala love the BNP and would love to see the party become the government once again,” he claims.
“I just need to convince the multitudes that the only way to get services and for the constituency to prosper will be through the adoption of BNP policies.”
Seholoholo, who claims to be a passionate farmer, says Sebapala urgently needs veterinary hospitals.
“Livestock population in Sebapala accounts for 60 percent of the district’s (Quthing) total animal population, but there are no veterinary hospitals there,” he says.
“They were shut down.
“For people whose livelihoods generally depend on farming this is a disaster.”
He adds: “We have to find ways and means of restoring the BNP policies.”
Seholoholo says he will use the controversial Land Bill 2009 to expose the LCD’s “lack of focus”.
“Taking land from the people and giving Europeans control over our land is unacceptable,” he says.
“By so doing the LCD is weakening the structures of this country and Basotho are not going to fall for that.”
The ABC candidate, Lehlonolo Namole, however says the LCD’s Mafura will be shocked when the results are announced.
The people of Sebapala, Namole claims, are tired of the government’s empty promises.
“The late Mats’eliso Monyakane and Kabelo Mafura have not done much for the constituency,” he says.
“Monyakane was never in the constituency and she was even opting to stay in Maseru when parliament adjourned.”
And he has harsh words for Mafura as well.
“Mafura also failed dismally,” Namole says.
“He has resigned instead of focusing on working for the constituency, leaving a vacuum in the process.”
Namole says when he gets into parliament he will demand better roads for the people of Sebapala.
“The roads here are bad,” he says.
“From Sebapala to the chief’s home is a stretch of road covering about 30km but it is in bad shape.
“There is another one leading to Daliwe which is a stretch of rock and only Land Rovers can be driven there.
“The road to Ponts’eng is also a disgrace.”
These roads, he says, “could have been fixed long ago if the LCD MPs were committed and identified with the needs of the people”.
“The people want electricity and I will push until they get that,” Namole adds.
“For services such as photocopying and access to computers, people have to travel long distances.
“To get to Mt Moorosi from Sebapala, one has to travel for about 8km and for 20 to 25 km to Quthing.”
Namole says the LCD has neglected the people of Sebapala.
“Clinics are also too few despite the population density of the constituency,” he says.
“We have only two clinics which also happen to be far from the villages.
“We do not have access to clean water in times of drought because the tanks provided are not big enough.”
Namole says he is looking beyond the May 22 by-election.
“Even if we don’t get to bring development due to time constraints, winning the constituency will be a clear sign that people want a change of regime,” he says.
“Our struggle as a party goes beyond the 22 May by-elections.
“They are just a test to show what the ABC can do with regard to service delivery in the event that we become the government.”