Constitutional amendment bill to suspend delimitation of constituencies

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Mohalenyane Phakela

NATIONAL Independent Party (NIP) leader, Kimetso Mathaba, is working on a constitutional amendment bill to suspend the delimitation of constituencies until after next year’s elections. The polls are due any time after September 2022.

The bill seeks to amend section 67 of the constitution which empowers the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to delimit constituencies every 10 years.

The drafting of the bill comes barely two months after NIP and other congress parties, including the Democratic Congress (DC), sharply opposed their governing coalition allies, including the All Basotho Convention (ABC), who had proposed that the IEC proceeds with the delimitation of constituencies ahead of next year’s elections.

At that September 2021 meeting of the political parties and the IEC, the congress parties even threatened to go to court if the IEC proceeded with the delimitation exercise which it had begun in 2018.

Although the IEC is constitutionally mandated to delineate constituencies, the congress parties demanded that the electoral body leaves 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. They argued that the delimitation should not go ahead on the basis of the 2016 national census which they said was now outdated.

In his draft bill seen this week by the Lesotho Times this week, Mr Mathaba states that it would be prejudicial to continue with the delimitation of constituencies because the country is reeling from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and it is seized with the national reforms process.

“The Bill proposes to empower the Constituency Delimitation Commission to postpone or suspend the review of the constituencies until such time after the elections as the Commission may consider necessary or appropriate, taking into consideration that the constitutional reforms process which is going to address such matters is underway, and Lesotho is currently in a state of natural disaster and emergency which is thread to human health and life due to heavy rainfalls and the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr Mathaba states in the Statement of objectives and reasons of the tenth constitutional amendment Bill.

“According to the Bill, the Commission also has the power to suspend such a review if the census of the population is delayed or there is a likelihood that the results of the census of the population results are unreliable.”

The Bill also seeks to empower the commission to suspend the delimitation “if there is a public emergency or if it is in the national interest” to do so.

The congress parties’ position on the delimitation exercise is at odds with that of the ABC, the biggest party in the governing coalition. The ABC, its traditional Basotho National Party (BNP) ally and the opposition Nqosa Mahao-led Basotho Action Party (BAP) want the IEC to conclude outstanding activities such as the delimitation of constituencies and the cleaning up of the voters’ roll.

The preliminary delimitation exercise was conducted in 2018 under the previous IEC 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 belatedly 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 proposed to reduce the number of rural constituencies and create more urban ones because of migration. However, the congress parties opposed the proposals amid indications that they fear they will lose next year’s elections if the rural constituencies they consider to be their strongholds are reduced.

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