Sadc eager to finalise Lesotho poll reforms

MASERU – A Southern African Development Community (Sadc) team visits Lesotho on April 27 to ramp up pressure on political players to finalise electoral reforms ahead of next year’s general elections.

The Sadc Troika on Politics, Defence and Security is particularly eager to finalise the reforms to avoid a repeat of post-election disputes that have rocked most of Lesotho’s elections.

The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party, opposition parties and chief mediators the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) are set to present a report on what has been achieved since February 2010, amid indications of slow progress in finalising the roadmap.

The troika, made up of Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, Swaziland’s King Mswati III and Zambia’s Defence Minister Dr Kalombo Mwanza, was last in Lesotho in February last year.

The roadmap included, among other issues, the time-frame to review the constitution as well as the electoral laws.

Churches were roped in after the original mediator, former Botswana president Sir Ketumile Masire, abandoned the mediation process in July 2009 after accusing the government of non-compliance and refusal to co-operate.

Parliament has since early this year been working on the National Assembly Electoral Bill 2011 to repeal the National Assembly Elections Act 1992.

The Bill contains a raft of electoral law reforms. The parties are also working on constitutional reforms.

But progress on other contentious issues such as the position and mandate of the official leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and the government’s refusal to take responsibility for the messy allocation of proportional representation seats has stalled.

The government and opposition parties have been locked in a bitter stand-off since 2007 over the allocation of proportional representation seats in parliament.

One of the items featuring prominently on both the constitution and electoral laws debate is the provision for political parties contesting elections to have the locus standi to petition the High Court with regard to the allocation of proportional presentation seats.

This is meant to avoid cases such as the one lodged in the High Court of Lesotho by the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) over the allocation of PR seats in the National Assembly after the 2008 election.

The party argued that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had wrongly allocated the seats.

The High Court however ruled that the MFP had no locus standi and dismissed the case.     

The draft law is currently in the Senate for further amendments and approval after it was passed by the National Assembly last week.

Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla confirmed to the Lesotho Times yesterday that Troika members will be in Lesotho on 27 April.

He described progress on constitutional and electoral law reforms as “by far a milestone for us”.

“The CCL has also basically worked hard on the mission, we do have something tangible to table before the troika,” Lehohla said.

Opposition leader Sello Maphalla concurred that although progress had been slow, parties had at least addressed the issue of the electoral laws and amendments to the constitution.

“We have also addressed the issue of the single ballot in that we have agreed to use the system,” the Lesotho Worker’s Party deputy leader said.

“On the sixth amendment to the constitution we have made provisions for political parties to have the locus standi to apply for an election petition in the High Court post elections regarding the allocation of PR seats,” Maphalla said, depicting the move as “a huge achievement for us”.

“It has to be because it formed part of issues that were top of the agenda for us. Parties are now at liberty to oppose the allocation of PR seats,” Maphalla said.

He noted lack of progress in resolving the 2007 PR dispute as well as the issue of the “official leader of the opposition”.

“Those issues have not been resolved despite the achievements we have had so far. It is still a cause for concern. They should be resolved before the next election,” Maphalla said.

Bishop Phillip Mokuku, the CCL chairman, confirmed the imminent meeting with the Troika but declined to comment further.

 “I have not consulted with all stakeholders,” he said.

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