MASERU — Opposition political parties yesterday said they wanted the local government elections scheduled for September 10 postponed because preparations are behind schedule.
Speaking at a meeting at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) headquarters in Maseru, the leaders said the September 10 date was “unrealistic”.
They said events on the ground have shown that Lesotho is not yet ready for the polls.
What angered the opposition leaders were revelations made by a report that due to problems with mobile registration units (MRUs) the IEC had delayed the registration of voters.
The report, tabled at the meeting by the Political Party Leaders’ Electoral Monitoring Committee, also said the IEC could not register voters in areas that cannot be accessed with cars.
The report said the commission needed MRUs which were portable and with longer battery life for remote areas.
According to a previous report nearly 100 000 eligible voters have not yet been registered. So far
900 000 are on the voters’ roll.
The main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party leader Thomas Thabane said it was a waste of time for stakeholders to hope for the electoral commission to hold credible local government elections “with the state of this report”.
“If we’re hoping to hold local government elections in September with the state of this report then we’re deceiving ourselves into believing we can have a credible election,” he said.
“There’s no voter registration, not even in my own Abia constituency. It doesn’t even look like it will happen anytime soon. We’re just not ready for elections in September.”
“If we’re to have a credible election, let’s review our decision (to hold elections on September 10),” the ABC leader appealed to his colleagues.
He added that discussing issues pertaining to the mobile registration units was tantamount to “wasting the public’s time”.
“Why waste time discussing broken cameras which will probably never work instead of preparing for a smooth election? We’re wasting the public’s time by skirting around serious issues,” Thabane said.
Basotho National Party leader Thesele ’Maseribane said the September 10 date set for the elections “worries me a great deal”.
“The fact that there’s no voter registration taking place is worrying because we all know that registration culminates in elections,” ’Maseribane said.
“The worst part is that there are so many people who are not in the least aware of where they are supposed to register, let alone vote. How do we go for elections with the public still in the dark?” he asked.
“If IEC is failing to get things right, what about the ordinary man out there?”
“We lead political parties. When exactly will we ever get the correct information about issues from the IEC?”
“We feel like we’re being undermined by being told that cameras do not work and that some machines are not functioning,” ’Maseribane said.
Marematlou Freedom Party’s Moeketse Malebo berated the IEC for being stuck in the “old ways of doing things”.
“IEC is in disarray. It’s clear that we’re not going to have proper local government elections. The election is going to be a mess. The IEC itself is in a mess,” Malebo said.
“Registering is a waste of precious time. Why don’t we just let Basotho go to the polls without registering?”
He added: “Our only alternative is to suspend these elections and merge them with national elections.”
“If the IEC failed to manage registration in the past four years, where does the commission expect to get the capacity to do it in the remaining three months?” he charged.
Senkatana Party deputy leader Eliabe Mokhanoi said he wondered what the IEC was planning to do with national elections when it was already failing to deal with local government polls.
“These elections should be easy for the commission to organise,” Mokhanoi said.
In its report, the monitoring committee also said the IEC seemed to be grappling with structural problems which leave the commission’s staff engaged more in “crisis management and less in institution building”.
“The monitoring committee has also in its report asserted that IEC is always working under crisis, not building the institution. Why should this always be the case,” ’Maseribane asked.
But not all leaders shared these views.
“We still have confidence in these elections, it’s our nation’s constitutional right to have them,” said Basutoland African Congress (BAC) deputy leader Mohopolo Macheli.
Basotho Congress Party (BCP) leader Thulo Mahlakeng was of the view that it was premature for other leaders to be calling for the elections to be postponed without substantial evidence that “it’s necessary to do so”.
“If we just say things without official documents containing valid proof that indeed we have to postpone the elections, then we’re going about it the wrong way,” Mahlakeng said.
“I simply don’t find the basis to abandon the September 10 elections when we don’t even know the current status of voters at constituencies.
“Have we even established whether it’s true that those who say they haven’t registered are being honest?”
Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) deputy leader Sello Maphalla said although he acknowledged the lack of proper preparations for the polls, he did not “agree with those who want to give in”.
“I disagree with leaders who just want to throw in the towel instead of coming up with solutions. I am yet to hear the side of the IEC on this matter,” Maphalla said.
Local government minister and newly-elected president of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Women’s League, Pontšo Sekatle, said it was imperative that the local government elections be held in September to fill the vacancies left by councillors whose terms ended in April.
“Their work is being done by civil servants, but there are duties which are strictly tailored around them and can be executed by them only,” Sekatle said.
“I therefore appeal for there to be elections in September, so that we attend to governance issues.”
But Thabane could still not be appeased.
“We will not succeed. Some things will not have been removed prior to the date of elections. We cannot go ahead with elections, but we can do without councillors.
“Besides, there are chiefs to carry out such responsibilities,” he said.