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A new spirit of consensus

by Lesotho Times
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THE leaders of Lesotho’s 20 main political parties yesterday agreed to postpone local government elections which were scheduled for next month.
The signing of the agreement vividly illustrates that with political will, we can sit down as Basotho to resolve our political differences in an atmosphere devoid of the usual bitter acrimony.
The decision to postpone the local government polls is in a small way a victory for the opposition that had been fiercely pushing for the postponement of the elections.
The opposition has been shouting its voice hoarse arguing that some sections of the Local Government Elections Act should first be repealed before the polls are conducted.
The government had initially appeared to rubbish the opposition demands arguing the opposition demands were frivolous.
But following the signing of the agreement yesterday, we note there appears to be a coming together of minds on the need to amend the offending law.
The two sides appear to have closed ranks on the need to amend the Local Government Act (1997) and the Local Government Elections Act of 1998.
The 2004 amendment to the Local Government Elections Act of 1998 deals with the issue around the reservation of seats for women.
When the government amended the Local Government Elections Act in 1998, it said it wanted to reserve at least 30 percent of all seats in parliament and local councils to women.
The government said the affirmative action policy was meant to correct a historical injustice perpetrated against women for decades.
The law, the government argued, was the only way to boost the number of women in local government structures.
So when Lesotho held its first local government elections in 2005, some women stood unopposed to fulfil this statutory requirement.
But the opposition says it is not happy with this requirement. It says the electoral law denies voters an opportunity to elect a person of their choice regardless of gender.
It says the law must therefore be repealed.
We have serious problems with the opposition’s arguments against the electoral law.
We hope any amendment to the law will not reverse the gains that women have made in our society.
Any attempt by the mighty and powerful in society to continue chaining women in perpetual bonds of poverty should be fiercely resisted.
Surely there is no merit in the opposition’s arguments against affirmative action to ensure women achieve parity with men.
Besides, the decision to pursue an aggressive affirmative action policy was only temporary.
After some time, this provision was bound to fall off.
Most electoral bodies mandated to run elections in Africa have a history of gerrymandering constituencies in favour of ruling parties.
This, in most instances, has produced contested electoral outcomes.
We would not want Lesotho to travel this road again.
This is the reason why we note with satisfaction the new spirit of consensus, at least on paper, that was demonstrated at yesterday’s signing ceremony in Maseru.
It is clear that we can sit down together as Basotho to thrash out our political differences in an atmosphere devoid of the bitter acrimony that we have become so used to over the years.
We can, even without external mediators poking their fingers into our internal affairs, resolve our differences and ensure political stability and peace.
Lesotho has had a very sad history of post-election disturbances starting with the contested 1970 elections.
It is important that we move away from this mindset. It is important that we conduct our elections in a manner that does not ensure we produce elections with contested outcomes.
But for us to achieve this, contesting parties must first agree on the rules that guide how the polls are conducted. Parties must agree on the rules before any election process is set in motion.
It would have been pretty naïve on the part of the Independent Electoral Commission to ignore the opposition demands and proceed with the elections.
Any election held in such a poisoned political environment would have raised questions about the legitimacy of the electoral outcome.
The decision to postpone the local government elections will therefore give our political leaders an opportunity to find each other to avoid political instability.

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