THE Commonwealth organisation recently deployed a six-member team to observe Lesotho’s general elections which will be held tomorrow.
Ahead of the team’s deployment, the 56-nation association comprising mostly formerly British colonies including Lesotho, said the observer team would be headed by former Seychelles president, Danny Faure (pictured). Other team members are former Rwandan Senator, Jacqueline Mohongayire; Gender and Human Rights activist, Terry Dale Ince (Trinidad and Tobago); journalist Blessings Tunoh Assom (Nigeria) and former deputy head of OSCE Elections Missions, Paul O’Grady (United Kingdom).
Completing the list is Boniface Cheembe, the executive director of the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Zambia).
Commonwealth secretary general, Patricia Scotland, said she assembled the observer mission after receiving an invitation from Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to monitor the polls.
Ms Scotland also said, “Our election observation work is hugely important, helping to safeguard and strengthen the process, culture and institutions of democracy across the Commonwealth”.
“As the former president of Seychelles, His Excellency Danny Faure has led his country to a number of successes and has put his country at the forefront of innovation, technology and economic development. He is well-placed to appreciate the issues at hand and to lead the team in Lesotho.”
Today, the Lesotho Times (LT) Editor, Herbert Moyo, sat down with Mr Faure to discuss his team’s views of the situation in Lesotho ahead of tomorrow’s polls:
LT: How long has the Commonwealth team been here?
Faure: Most of the team arrived on 27 September. I arrived on the 29th of September. The bulk of the team will be leaving on the 14th of October.
LT: Just for the record, how many people are on the observer mission and which countries are they from?
Faure: Altogether we are 14 and we come from the following countries: Kenya, Rwanda, Trinadad&Tobago, Seychelles, the United Kingdom and Zambia.
LT: In the time that you have been in Lesotho, which places have you been to? Who have you interacted with? What have you observed in terms of the pre-election atmosphere?
Faure: Two of our colleagues had the opportunity to observe the early voting which is organised for people in the essential services. They observed the voting on that day (30 September). We have since deployed our staff to Qacha’s Nek, Leribe, Mohale’s Hoek and Thaba Tseka. These are the various areas where our team is on the ground.
LT: For the avoidance of doubt, what are the Commonwealth’s expectations with regards to how elections ought to be conducted in member countries?
Faure: Lesotho is a member of the Commonwealth and in the Commonwealth, we have established norms and principles to guide us in the conduct of elections. It is the expectation in all Commonwealth countries that the elections should be conducted in a peaceful manner; they must be free, fair and credible. This is what the Commonwealth aspires to. For all these objectives to be achieved, there are mechanisms that have to be put in place.
Regarding Lesotho, there is an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which is catered for in law. It appoints officers to carry out its mandate. We expect that it interacts and engages with all political parties and other stakeholders to ensure the effective execution of its mandate.
LT: Have you met with any of the political players in these elections? If so, what have they said to you?
Faure: Our team has devoted its time to meeting most of the stakeholders. We have met with some of the political parties, women and youth representatives, the Law Society of Lesotho and the media as well. Yesterday (Wednesday), we also met with the Commissioner of Police (Holomo Molibeli).
LT: We are very much aware that you will only publish your report at a later stage. That said, what have you observed so far with regards to the pre-election atmosphere in Lesotho?
Faure: We started by putting out a statement to inform Basotho that we are here in the country to observe the elections. We’ve made it clear that we are not here on behalf of any government; we are an independent and impartial team of observers. We will put out our interim statement on the 9th of October. By then, the elections would have been held and we would have received statements from our people on the ground. Thereafter, we will work on a comprehensive document for a final statement which we will submit to (Commonwealth Secretary General) Baroness Patricia Scotland. She will in turn submit the statement to the government of Lesotho.
Coming back to your question, what we have gathered in all our meetings with various stakeholders as well as our observations, is that the mood for these elections is peaceful. Stakeholders have also told us that compared to the 2017 elections, you don’t feel the tension in the air. So, people are really looking forward to going to the polls tomorrow.
LT: Any final words to the people of Lesotho on the eve of these crucial elections?
Faure: Lesotho is a beautiful country, with wonderful people. There is a lot of hope for the people of this country. You can only realise your dreams and guarantee your prosperity by going to the polls and electing leaders of your choice. You have to do that in an atmosphere of peace, calmness and stability. These are things we wish for Lesotho.