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I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...

Monday, March 09, 2015

Lesotho Elections

Regular readers will remember that Lesotho had an attempted coup at the end of August, which led to all PCVs spending an anxiety-riddled three weeks in South Africa (see Consolidation Vacation and Consolidation Continues). Thankfully, things settled down though the same agreements that allowed us to return to our homes called for elections in February 2015.
Campaigners dancing at the gas
station on their way home from a rally.

As a result, the new year has been filled with a sea of brightly colored Basotho campaigning in villages, towns, and especially Maseru. As early as Christmas, people on taxis asked me if I would be voting, who I supported, and what I thought. My answer was always the same as I explained that PCVs are not allowed to be involved in local politics or share opinions on local politics.

As the election loomed, PCV chatter centered around how it may impact our service. In 1998, PCVs were consolidated after riots broke out in Maseru in response to the election outcome. South Africa sent in security forces and people died. From what I have heard, the political climate leading up to the 1998 elections was less tense than it has been since June when the Prime Minister dissolved the parliament. As a result, we all wondered what Peace Corps would do and whether we would again be living the not-so-dope hotel life.  

Thankfully, that did not happen. For the days surrounding the election, we were expected to lay low in our villages, but to continue with normal life while avoiding polling places and large gatherings. This was incredibly easy to do in my village, especially since it ended up being a very gray and rainy set of days, which pretty much changes normal life to staying home for most villagers anyway.

My brother showing off the mark that he voted.
As a nineteen year old, this was his first time voting!
After the elections, conversations around the village centered on the results. Starting the evening of the election, people spent more time around their radios, responding loudly whenever a positive announcement came in for the party most favored in the village. Through the night and into Sunday morning, I could hear people's reactions from my own hut.

More official announcements came in throughout the week, showing the party of the Prime Minister with a slight lead over the party of the previous Prime Minister, whose party had been in control until the Prime Minister's party managed a coalition to take control in the 2012 election. This had my villagers thrilled. But, the previous Prime Minister learned and in the end was able to take control in the same manner as he had lost it, forming a coalition with a number of parties to just barely secure a majority in parliament and therefore return to being Prime Minister.

This was announced late in the week. As I traveled for a committee meeting over the weekend, I was reminded of sports fans following a championship game—people in the parties that formed the winning coalition were decked out in party gear throughout the five districts I passed through. The level of enthusiasm for the election far outlasting any political engagement I have seen in the United States.

Those who supported the outgoing party seem to be taking things well, expressing joy that the process was peaceful rather than their disappointment in not winning. That said, they still have a large representation in the new parliament and can celebrate having taken far more voting areas this year than in previous elections.

Similarly, we PCVs are celebrating the fact that the election process has been far more peaceful than it could have been. I have never been so happy to say I did not travel!

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