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What are the issues for the May 26 polls?

THE 2012 election campaign has seen stiff competition among political parties.
Equally interesting is the observation that Lesotho is likely to have a colourful cabinet after May 26 which is not by design and choice of the prime minister as is the case with the current DC-LCD cabinet.
Be that as it may the question is: What are the issues for these polls?
What are the challenges facing Basotho?
What are the aspirations of the ordinary voter?
What kind of government are Basotho looking forward to?
Politicians have developed manifestos declaring their intentions on how to make life better for Basotho.
These colourful manifestos that are being aggressively touted at political rallies are aimed at winning votes.
But the question is: Are the manifestos relevant to the challenges?
The biggest and perhaps the most immediate challenge for Basotho in this time is how people earn their living.
Lesotho’s labour force constitutes 60 percent of the population yet around 25 percent in that group are unemployed.
These are people of a working age who are not employed.
Some of these people are educated up to post-graduate level but unfortunately they do not have jobs.
More than half of the 1.8 million people in this country live below the poverty datum line.
The internal migration resulting in the twin troubles of increasing urbanisation and urban poverty is linked to the declining agricultural production.
At independence agriculture accounted for 80 percent of GDP but now its contribution has plunged to a measly eight percent.
The few farmers who are still toiling in the fields are now grappling with the slow but devastating effects of climate change.
They experience early frost in addition to unusual and at times stormy rainfall.
To understand what is happening in this sector which sustains over 70 percent of the people in this country you only need to look at the 2010/2011 season.
The heavy rains washed away fields and left some of them water logged for weeks.
This effectively made weeding impossible.
As a result 34 percent of crops planted in the 2010/2011 season were destroyed.
With that came the three percent increase in food prices.
In the same season most of the animals died.
These comprised sheep and goats which are central to the income of wool and mohair farmers.
The current season has not been good enough to compensate for the previous farming seasons that were terrible.
In terms of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Lesotho is set to miss its target to reduce by half the number of people living in poverty by 2015.
The manifestoes that parties are presenting are fragmented and lack a comprehensive outlook.
Most of the colour print manifestoes have been developed by the party elites who hardly understand what it means to be educated but unemployed.
They honestly don’t know how it feels like to invest in crop production and be frustrated by early frost.
They clearly don’t know what it means to go to bed on an empty stomach.
The incongruence between their promises and the people’s aspirations is the reason why Basotho now believe manifestoes are just hollow promises and lies from politicians.
Although this perception has a history and cannot just be denied on academic and theoretical claims, it
has to be noted that the problem lies with the manner in which manifestoes are formulated.
The main challenge is that since a manifesto is not owned by the party structures, voters and even the party itself is powerless to hold its government accountable.
The conceptualisation of whatever that goes into the manifesto remains a preserve of those who drew it.
Manifestoes are hardly challenged through a robust intra-party debate to give them the party’s ideological flavour.
As a result they become sources of conflict instead of being a policy guide.
There is no difference between party and non-party members because they are both persuaded to like and subscribe to what party leadership and elites choose.
If no party emerges dominant in the coming elections then Basotho would be blessed because parties making government will have to come out of closets and address real issues.
It is only through cooperation and collaboration among parties and not through a single party domination based on elitist and exclusionist manifestoes that Lesotho can progress.

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