LESOTHO Defence Force (LDF) Commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana have expressed disappointment at being “deprived” their right to vote in the 28 February 2015 general elections.
Lt Gen Mahao and Commissioner Tšooana were sent to Sudan and Algeria respectively for their leave of absence in line with the Maseru Security Accord (MSA) signed on 23 October 2014.
However, Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli, who is also part of the MSA deal brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is yet to leave South Africa for his special leave in Uganda, arguing he would only do so if his salary—which government has since withdrawn—is reinstated.
Under the MSA facilitated by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the three security bosses were required to go to an African or Commonwealth country on special leave within 21 days of the signing of the deal to allow the restoration of peace between the LMPS and LDF, whose tiff nearly plunged the country into a civil war.
According to the poll timetable issued by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), advance-voting for embassy staff abroad, state security agents, medical practitioners, journalists and election observers is scheduled for Saturday, 21 February.
However, both Lt Gen Mahao and Commissioner Tšooana cannot vote at Lesotho embassies because they are not employed at those consulates.
Speaking to the Lesotho Times from South Sudan this week, Lt Gen Mahao said he only agreed to leave the country for the sake of peace, and was disappointed that he was now being punished for it.
“I have been deprived of my right to vote. Even if I wanted to vote I cannot do so from here,” Lt Gen Mahao said.
“There is no arrangement at all put in place for me to vote.”
He said upon his departure, the understanding was through SADC’s facilitation, tension between the LDF and LMPS as well as the country’s political instability would have been resolved before the elections.
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“Article 10 in the MSA was not specific about how long the leave of absence was going to be, and only mentioned a ‘specified period’ because we were not going to be absent for the same amount of time,” said Lt Gen Mahao, who took over as LDF commander from Lt Gen Kamoli in August last year, although the latter has maintained he is still the army chief.
“Coming home after the elections was not part of the agreement and it is really frustrating to be refused my right.”
Echoing the same sentiments, Commissioner Tšooana also said it was unfair that there was no special arrangement for him to vote from where he is because signing the MSA was not for his personal benefit but the country’s peace and stability.
The police chief insisted he had not agreed to forfeit the right to vote by accepting to go on the leave of absence.
“We were of the view that the IEC would make a special arrangement for us to cast our votes,” Commissioner Tšooana said from Algeria.
“However, nothing has been said to us about the issue and I think it’s very unfair because it is not by choice that we are away from home.”
Contacted for comment, IEC Acting Director of Elections, ‘Mamatlere Matete confirmed Lt Gen Mahao, Lt Gen Kamoli and Commissioner Tšooana would not be able to cast their ballots either as advance voters or on election day.
According to Ms Matete, the National Assembly Electoral Act of 2011 states only public officers employed by the government of Lesotho abroad are eligible to vote.
“Lt Gen Mahao, Lt Gen Kamoli and Commissioner Tšooana are on leave of absence and not employed by the government in the countries they are currently stationed,” Ms Matete said.
“There was no special arrangement made for them to vote since the elections are conducted according to the law.”