MASERU – Opposition parties have ganged up against a new Bill that seeks to change the laws governing National Assembly elections in Lesotho.
The Lesotho Opposition Parties Forum is calling on the august House to reject the National Assembly Electoral Bill 2011 which seeks to repeal the National Assembly Elections Act 1992.
The Forum’s secretary general Sello Maphalla told the Lesotho Times this week that the leaders had at a meeting on Monday resolved to fight to force the minister to withdraw the Bill from parliament.
He said they have also assigned opposition officials in the IEC’s law committee “to scrutinise the document”.
“Our firm opinion is that this Bill in its current state defies our resolutions. It should therefore be pulled out of parliament to be reviewed,” Maphalla said.
The final version should reflect contents of our discussions, the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) deputy leader said.
According to Maphalla, Justice Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa should have presented the Bill to all stakeholders before tabling it in parliament “as had been agreed”.
“That is why it is imperative for these delegates to go through the Bill to establish agreements that it undermines,” Maphalla said.
Delegates who were tasked with reviewing the Bill are Basotho Democratic National Party deputy leader Pelele Letsoela, Basotho National Party treasurer Sekhohola Molelle, BAC’s Teboho Mohlomi and Maphalla.
The delegates are expected to table a report of their findings in their meeting today, Maphalla said.
“This issue is very serious. Government seems to be intent on doing a rush job of things, we have to stay alert,” Maphalla said.
The new Bill seeks to empower political parties to petition the High Court regarding the allocation of proportional representation seats.
Previously, there was no legal provision for political parties to appeal to the High Court during electoral disputes.
The proposed law also deals with the registration of voters, political parties, the nomination process, election observation and electoral code of conduct.
The Bill has been referred to the relevant portfolio committee for analysis.
The draft law also seeks to review the current procedure that is followed when there is a vacancy in the National Assembly.
Unlike its predecessor, the statement says, the new law will provide additional powers, duties and functions to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
Opposition leaders say the Bill, in its current state, does to reflect the discussion they had with the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), the IEC and the government when the law reforms were proposed.
The Bill, they charge, is a far cry from the draft they submitted after discussions with other stakeholders.
The minister responsible should have consulted them about the final document before taking it to parliament, opposition parties say.
The row started when Mahase-Moiloa tabled the Bill in parliament three weeks ago.
The opposition parties accused the minister of “sneaking” the Bill into parliament.
During the Monday meeting a panel comprising five political leaders was selected to alert the international community such as UNDP and Sadc about the Bill.
The panel includes All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane, Marematlou Freedom Party’s Moeketse Malebo, Basutoland African Congress’s Paanya Phoofolo, Popular Front for Democracy’s Lekhetho Rakuoane and Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) leader Kelebone Maope.
When contacted for comment yesterday, Thabane confirmed that he was in the panel and that there were serious issues of which “we must alert the international community”.
According to Thabane, their role is to bring to the attention of the international community the fact that the Bill does not address issues such as the allocation of PR seats which have caused problems in previous elections.
“It also has to address the issue of the alliances which although they were agreed to, were later rendered illegal,” Thabane said.
“We have to fix the law in its entirety in order to avoid a repeat of past events.”
The ABC leader also accused the government of attempting “to rush things”.
“The only provision the Bill makes is for political parties with post-election grievances to approach courts of law to avoid the scenario of the MFP case,” the ABC leader said.
MFP lost its case in court after the 2007 elections concerning the improper allocation of PR seats.
The High Court dismissed the party’s application as null and void on the basis that it (the court) had no jurisdiction over the matter and that MFP did not have “locus standi in judicio”.
Meanwhile 19 opposition leaders have written a letter to the CCL complaining about the Bill.
In their letter dated February 17, the leaders submit that according to agreements reached by stakeholders leading to the post-election dialogue, the reforms to the electoral law were supposed “to be undertaken by the law committee and IEC through a consultative and all-inclusive process”.
“We are shocked that the government has brought a Bill to parliament without feedback to the plenary,” reads the letter.
“There is a strong feeling that some aspects of the Bill undermine the MMP and that they may lead to instability.”