Parties threaten election boycott

MASERU — Lesotho’s opposition leaders say they are considering boycotting the forthcoming local government elections if the government does not amend the Local Government Elections Act to level the political playing field and ensure the elections are free and fair.
The leaders say the Lesotho Congress for Democracy government runs the risk of going to the elections alone if it does not urgently amend the law that regulates the election of councillors.
Although the decision to boycott the elections, likely to be held sometime between March and May this year, has not been concretised, the idea is already gaining momentum amongst the country’s main opposition parties.
“We are not saying we are thinking of boycotting just for the sake of boycotting. We are not boycotters,” said Tom Thabane (pictured), the leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party in an interview last night.
“We are saying we want fundamental issues that affect the running of the election to be addressed before we can commit ourselves to participating,” he said. 
Thabane said he was particularly concerned by the fact that while the country has adopted the Mixed Member Proportional Representation electoral model in the national general elections the local government elections are still run on the First Past the Post model.
“We cannot have a situation where we run elections on the basis of two clearly different models. This is an anomaly that should be addressed urgently,” Thabane said.
“It (boycott decision) is not cast in stone yet but I am going to make the recommendation that opposition parties shun the local government elections if crucial and necessary adjustments are not made,” he said.
Thabane said he was “tired of participating in flawed elections that cause dispute and divide the people”.
“All I am saying is that we refuse to be led into an election that we already know is flawed. All we want is for the playing field to be level and for that to happen the laws must be changed.”
He said the Ministry of Local Government had not fulfilled on its earlier promise to amend the law. 
“During the last local government elections the opposition raised concerns about the law but the government said it was too late to amend it and we should just get on with the election and then effect the amendments later. But up until now nothing has been changed.”
There are many issues that worry the opposition about going into the election under the current law, he said.
“We are worried about the whole process. We are worried about the voter registration method, the demarcation of boundaries and the voting process.
“We just need clean and transparent elections. We are not making threats to anybody. We are just asking that those corrections be effected,” he said.
Thabane said although the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was a stakeholder, it was Local Government Minister Pontsó Sekatle’s responsibility to push for the amendment of the laws.
“It is the local government minister’s responsibility to amend the laws which we have grievances with as the opposition,” Thabane said.
“The IEC only has the responsibility to amend the laws governing national elections, whereas with local government elections, the electoral commission is only involved in the technical side of things.”
The Basotho National Party leader, Metsing Lekhanya, however said he believes the buck should stop with the IEC which he said “must put its house in order (so that) the elections can take place”.
“The IEC has to amend about 12 areas in the Local Government Elections Act, which include among others the voter registration method,” Lekhanya said. 
He said the law was flawed from the onset.
“The only reason why we have religiously been taking part in local government elections was to avoid shooting ourselves in the foot. But this time round we are adamant that changes should be made.
“Going into the local government elections under the present circumstances will be such a terrible injustice to the public. It would be emulating the 2007 elections which we got into blind-folded.”
Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) leader, Moeketse Malebo, said he will evaluate the situation before making a decision.
“If the conditions are obnoxious I will not participate but if I see that the conditions are bearable, I will go in,” said Malebo.
He however said that does not mean that he is happy with the current situation. He said he was concerned that elections had not been harmonised as was recommended by the Interim Political Authority in 1999.
“Also we have never agreed with the discriminatory clause that says the minister can decide that a certain ward should be allocated to a female candidate. It is wrong.
“Why should we go ahead when there are so many mistakes which need to be rectified? We will only participate in the local government elections on the basis that the local government elections laws we have grievances with are amended,” he said.
There are dissenting voices in the opposition movement though.
Unlike his opposition counterparts, leader of the Senkatana party, Lehlohonolo Tséhlana, said the Local Government Elections Act was not flawed.
“My firm opinion is that the Local Government Elections Act is not in the least flawed,” Tséhlana said.
“There were amendments made to the Act in November 2009 and the opposition never voiced their concerns then. I think they are just clutching at straws.
“We are no doubt going to participate in the local government elections. These elections are a perfect channel through which the public can gain strength and be at a level to control the central government,” Tséhlana said.
However, Tséhlana said he was concerned by the “sexist” clause within the Local Government Elections Act “because it says women should strictly be allocated certain constituencies”.
“The clause totally defies the constitution,” he said.
IEC spokesman, Tuoe Hantsí, said the opposition’s accusations were misdirected because the IEC does not make laws.
“We do not make laws and we never have. We are just custodians of laws made by parliament. Just like we are custodians of the Local Government Elections Act,” Hantsí said.
“We work with these parties on a daily basis through our consultative committees but they have not made us aware of some of their grievances,” Hantsí said.
“We highly appreciate to be made aware when we err. However, it is advisable that with their capacity as Members of Parliament, they push to have the laws they are not content with modified.
“And by the way, in our eyes all parties are equal. We do not have the opposition. The manner in which we communicate with them all is standard.”
Efforts to contact Local Government Minister Pontso Sekatle failed last night.

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