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Implications of Lekhanya’s downfall

WHILE the downfall of Major General Metsing Lekhanya from the leadership of Basotho National Party (BNP) has been topical within political circles what has been missed is what his ouster really means for the former ruling party.

The reaction amongst BNP members has been more emotional rather than analytical. 

Some are jubilant that Lekhanya is finally gone while others are mourning his toppling. 

In shedding these tears of joy and sorrow the BNP supporters have forgotten to analyse what Lekhanya’s exit really means for the BNP’s future. 

To understand what that move means one has to understand the history of the BNP.

Before General Lekhanya, the BNP was led by Retšelisitsoe Sekhonyana who came after  founding leader Leabua Jonathan died.  

When Jonathan died in 1987, Lesotho was under the military rule and the Order Number 4 which prohibited political activity was still in force. 

By that time Lekhanya was the chairman of two important councils, the Military Council and the Council of Ministers.

Sekhonyana was a member of Council of Ministers where he held the position of finance minister.

In the run-up to the 1993 general elections and after the repeal of Order No. 4, Sekhonyana took over the BNP leadership. 

The perception among the BNP members has been that Sekhonyana, Lekhanya and others presided over the fall of the BNP government so they could not be trusted to lead the party.

Sekhonyana was however able to engage the BCP government and earned himself popular favour.

When he died, Lekhanya was promoted by the people who would later plot his downfall.

The justification for his suitability has been the violent political circumstances of the post 1998 era. 

Although the BNP deserves credit like others in the transformation of the electoral model from First-Past-the-Post to Mixed Member Proportional Representation it has earned itself an image of an organisation that is hostile to elections.

BNP is a conservative organisation and this is demonstrated by the stance it took towards chieftainship, the whites and the Catholic Church during its rule.

The BNP believed that national progress could be achieved by making the best out of the chieftainship, the whites and the church while the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) wanted more freedom and liberty. 

For the BCP these established authorities curtailed popular freedom which is why it believed that their influence should be reduced. 

This explains the BCP’s radical stance towards these establishments.

Openly challenging leadership has been identified with liberal politics that the BCP promoted while the BNP upheld authority and discipline.

The battle to remove Lekhanya as leader was therefore foreign to the party’s ethos.

It can therefore be argued that the removal of Lekhanya will come at a cost to the BNP.

After Lekhanya, the BNP will no longer be the same party that even those who toppled him wanted it to be. 

There is no political party that can remove its leader by a popular vote of no confidence and still remain a conservative party.

The truth is that the BNP is now a new organisation.

The constitution, procedures and party structures should also demonstrate this change — they must be transformed. 

While the BNP’s decision to remove Lekhanya may seem advantageous, it remains a curse to the party unless a deliberate robust turnaround strategy is developed. 

This should start with redefining the party’s ideology.

What does the new BNP stand for?  

It will not be enough for the party to continue brandishing the promises that Jonathan made to Basotho three decades ago.

The new BNP’s promises have to be relevant to the country’s needs today.

In the past the BNP successfully manipulated the global political economy of the Cold War but it has to pronounce itself in this era of neoliberal dominance. 

The manner in which Lekhanya was removed would turn into a curse unless the party takes pains to clean its image and change its hostile attitude towards electoral politics.

Under Sekhonyana and Lekhanya the BNP successfully eroded public confidence in the electoral process.

To its disadvantage, many people who have lost this confidence are the BNP supporters because they are the ones easily influenced by their leaders.

 They find no reason in voting because of what their leaders have impressed on their minds about the discrepancies in the otherwise complex election processes.  

Therefore the post-Lekhanya BNP needs a leader who will revive public confidence in the electoral process.

The leader should be one who makes the best out of the Independent Electoral Commission’s committee system to ensure they influence how elections are run in this country.

The BNP needs a proactive and not a reactive leader.

With right choices on policy and leadership the BNP could determine the next government, not so much by winning polls but by becoming a critical factor in a coalition government which Lesotho is likely to have after the next elections.  

But the work has to start now.

The search for a proper leader must start now rather than later and so should the party’s ideological shift.

?Sofonea Shale is a civil society activist in Lesotho. You can reach him at shalesofonea@yahoo.com.

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