By Sentle Rathebe and Boitumelo Koloi
MASERU – The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Director of Elections, Mphasa Mokhochane, has said that although a party or a candidate could attend public meetings convened by their opponents, they must not host rallies or political events at the same place at the same time.
“All registered parties and candidates shall ensure that they do not call a public meeting, march, demonstration, rally or any other public political event at the same time and place as that called by another party contesting the by-election,” Mokhochane said.
The National Assembly Electoral Act Chapter 5 subsection 60.3 states that in the event that two or more political parties intend to hold rallies at the same venue at the same time, priority would be given the party whose notification was received first by the IEC.
Mokhochane said this during an election observers’ briefing held on Monday at a local hotel ahead of the polls scheduled for Saturday in the Thaba-Moea and the Thaba Phechela constituencies, as well as the polls in 27 local government electoral divisions.
He urged parties contesting the by-elections to abide by the electoral code of conduct for free and fair elections and told observers that through the code, the IEC was promoting a climate of democratic tolerance conducive to free, fair and transparent elections.
The issue of political parties conduct came under the spotlight after last weekend’s campaign rallies in Thaba-Pechela and Thaba-Moea.
The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) held rallies barely a kilometre apart at the same time.
While LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing addressed his rally, DC leader Pakalitha Mosisili was also addressing his supporters not more than 500 metres from the LCD rally.
Metsing said the incident demonstrates political maturity among political foes in the country, but for Mosisili, the LCD’s move to hold a party rally at a venue so close to where his supporters were gathered was a sign of disrespect for the law.
“Today you realise we have rallies near one another and this is a development in Lesotho politics as this is just one indicator of the peace and stability that exist,” Metsing said.
“When I came here I saw LCD and DC members dancing and singing together without any fights and we as a party are proud that we have such peace and stability in the country.”
But Mosisili was unhappy with the proximity of an LCD rally near his party’s own rally.
He alleged that LCD members had been seen trying to discourage everyone from attending the DC rally.
“Other people seem not to be respectful of the electoral law. For instance the LCD have a rally within a 500-metre radius of our own. Where is the respect for the law.”
The law is, however, unclear on what the minimum distance between two rallies should be.
Mokhochane, however cited Schedule 2, Section 122 4 (e) of the Electoral Act 2011 as being the closest in addressing the matter.
The section sates that parties should, “. . . co-operate and liase in good faith with other political parties to avoid, in so far as possible, arrangements involving public meetings, demonstrations, rallies or marches taking place at the same time and venue as similar political events organised by other political parties”.
Ultimately, the final decision as to whether two parties can simultaneously hold rallies close to each other’s venue lies with the area chief concerned, Mokhochane said.