Congress parties threaten to sue IEC

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Mohalenyane Phakela / Pascalinah Kabi

THE ruling Democratic Congress (DC) and fellow congress parties have threatened to go to court to stop the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) from proceeding with the delimitation of constituencies.

The congress parties made the threats at a highly charged meeting convened by the IEC at the Victory Hall, Moshoeshoe II in Maseru yesterday.

The IEC had called the meeting of all registered political parties to discuss the delimitation of constituencies as well as the holding of by-elections in the five constituencies which are currently without representation.

Although the IEC is constitutionally mandated to delineate constituencies, the congress parties want the electoral body to leave the exercise in the hands of the National Reforms Authority (NRA) which is currently seized with work aimed at implementing constitutional and other reforms seen as crucial to achieving lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.

The parties also argue the delimitation exercise should not proceed on the basis of the last census which was held in 2016 as they say it is now outdated.

They further argue that parliament had agreed that the exercise should be deferred and next year’s general elections should be held under the existing constituencies.

The congress parties’ position on the delimitation exercise is at odds with that of the main governing All Basotho Convention (ABC) and its allies who have expressed their support for the preliminary delimitation exercise which was conducted in 2018.

The preliminary exercise was conducted under the previous commissioners, Mahapela Lehohla, ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Makase Nyaphisi whose tenure expired in January 2019.

Their successors, Mphasa Mokhochane, Karabo Mokobocho and Tšoeu Petlane, were appointed in November 2020.

The next step would have been the issuance of a gazette inviting the parties and the public to comment on the proposed new constituencies.

This was only done on 24 September 2021 when the IEC’s acting Director of Elections, Lehlohonolo Suping, issued the gazette inviting the political parties to make representations on the proposed constituencies. The IEC’s proposed reduced the number or rural constituencies and created more urban ones because of migration. The congress parties fear they will lose because they consider the rural constituencies their strongholds.

The IEC subsequently invited the political parties to yesterday’s closed meeting over the proposed new constituencies and the long overdue by-elections.

However, the meeting degenerated into a slanging match as tempers flared over the IEC’s plans to proceed with the delimitation of constituencies.

The Lesotho Times obtained some leaked audio recordings of the explosive meeting. Although it was not possible to establish the ABC and its allies’ position from the recordings, it was however clear that the DC and other congress parties are vehemently opposed to the delimitation exercise.

Basotho Batho Democratic Party leader, Jeremane Ramathebane, was the first to let rip at the IEC, accusing it of being “controlled” by unnamed people to conduct an “illegal exercise”.

“We previously advised you and you agreed to consider our views. But you have called us again and you want to use the (2016) census even though we told you that it was outdated.

“We are not on the same page. You are a commission which does not know anything but wants to do things it does not understand. I suspect that there is someone controlling you. You have gone against what we agreed upon in the previous (May 2021) meeting. There are people you plan the matters of this country with. You just called us to rubberstamp your plans,” Mr Ramathebane charged.

National Independent Party (NIP) leader, Kimetso Mathaba, accused the IEC of reneging on the previous agreement not to proceed with the delimitation of constituencies.

He said the electoral body and the political parties had agreed that legislation would be pushed through parliament to defer the exercise.

“Parliament agreed that the IEC should defer the review of constituencies but I am shocked by the IEC’s latest decision to proceed with the exercise. If the Attorney General (Rapelang Motsieloa) gave that advice, please furnish us with his legal opinion. We are not newcomers to this political sphere.

“We do not want to go back to the 1998 political instability. We ask that the NRA takes over the matter as it is already dealing with the constitutional reforms. They have the responsibility to ensure that this work is done. Therefore, we should give them the opportunity to do so,” Mr Mathaba said.

On his part, DC secretary general, Tšitso Cheba, said the best thing to do was to petition the High Court to order the IEC to stop the exercise.

“I didn’t attend the last meeting but I know the decisions of the previous meeting. I have read them. What needs to be done immediately is to instruct a lawyer to go to the High Court to stop these naughty people (IEC). That is the only solution,” Mr Cheba said.

Basotho Congress Party (BCP) leader, Thulo Mahlakeng, challenged the IEC to explain the basis of issuing the gazette for the delimitation of constituencies.

“You must tell us the source of numbers that you are going to use as a basis for demarcation of constituencies in the absence of a recent census and any other tool with recent national population statistics,” Adv Mahlakeng said.

IEC chairperson Mr Mokhochane accused the politicians of making unreasonable demands. He said the IEC had used “credible tools” when conducting the preliminary delimitation exercise.

The Lesotho Times was unable to obtain the ABC and its allies’ views as the recordings it obtained only captured the congress parties’ views. The ABC  was not reachable late last night for comment.

Other parties who attended the meeting would not be drawn into disclosing what the ABC had said at the meeting.

Meanwhile, IEC spokesperson, Tuoe Hantši, said the electoral body had convened the meeting with the political parties to update them on the progress towards the implementation of its mandate for the current financial year.

He said there were three issues on the agenda, namely the holding of by-elections, the delimitation of constituencies as well as the re-registration of voters.

He said all these activities had been hampered by the government’s failure to avail the required funds.

He said M20, 8 million was required for the by-elections.

He said there was no longer enough time to hold the by-elections even if the money was to be availed now.

He said this was because if they got money now the earliest they could conduct the polls would be January 2022. However, the National Assembly Electoral Act prescribes that by-elections should not be held within the last six months before the dissolution of parliament in preparation for the holding of general elections. Next year’s elections are due in September 2022 and the current parliament has to be dissolved by June 2022 in line with the electoral act which prescribes that the dissolution must be three months before elections are due.

This means that it would not be possible to conduct the by-elections in January as it would be within the six months before the dissolution of parliament.

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