Lesotho Times
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WITH a few months before Basotho trek to polling stations, last week’s workshop hosted by the United Nations Development Programme to promote political tolerance in Lesotho could not have come at a better time. Speaker after speaker at the workshop organised as part of Human Rights Day celebrations last Friday agreed that much still needs to be done to promote a culture of political tolerance in Lesotho. This is important if we are to consolidate Lesotho’s nascent democracy. This is particularly true because of our sad and violent past in connection with post-election conflicts since 1970. We therefore think there is no better time to deal with the issue of political tolerance than now, well ahead of elections. Any delays would result in the same post-election strife that we have come to expect after every poll. The key to fostering political tolerance is education. Voters must be educated that there are better ways of dealing with political differences than resorting to violence. They must be educated to appreciate that violence is counter-productive and will not solve our political differences. The onus to educate voters lies with civil society as well as political parties. Voter education is too big a task to be left in the hands of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) alone. We believe civil society in conjunction with the IEC must spearhead this voter education to help transform minds and thoughts of the youths who are often abused by political parties to perpetrate acts of violence. Lesotho must also strive to have a credible voter register ahead of the election. Without a clean voter list Lesotho’s electoral process will remain susceptible to serious manipulation. It is a matter of public record that our current voter register is seriously flawed. An independent electoral expert earlier this year said at least 10 percent of voters on the register had either died or emigrated. But this damning assessment seems not to have triggered any response from the authorities. What we heard were feeble attempts to sanitise this abnormality. We have not seen any serious act to clean up the register. The assumption is that all will be well after the election. That is dangerous. The reality however is that we cannot have credible elections with a faulty register. The current state of affairs is a recipe for serious national discord. The IEC must clean up the register now. If there are any lessons to be learnt from the local government election of October 1, it is that the IEC is still plagued with administrative challenges, raising questions whether it is fully prepared to handle a national election next year. The local government election was marred by mismanagement. Voting materials were delivered late or were not delivered at all in some remote districts. Voting had to be postponed in those districts. There is a huge risk that the chaotic scenes that we saw in October could replicate themselves, this time on a much larger scale in next year’s election, unless we act now to salvage the integrity of the electoral process. We do not want an election that produces a contested result. Political players must have full confidence that the IEC will be a fair arbiter in electoral disputes. The commission must embark on an aggressive campaign to educate and cajole party supporters to desist from violence. We cannot afford to wait until Lesotho burns in post-electoral violence like what happened after 1998. Political leaders must guard their tongues and refrain from inciting violence when results do not go their way. Those who fan violence must be held accountable. We all have  responsibility to promote the spirit of tolerance to avoid unnecessary loss of lives in post-election conflict.

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