Uproar over Electoral Bill

MASERU – A Bill seeking to change the country’s electoral law has triggered an uproar from opposition parties.

The opposition parties say the National Assembly Electoral Bill which seeks to replace the National Assembly Elections Act (1992) does not include their views.

The Bill was presented to parliament on monday.

Opposition parties have accused Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa of deliberately sidelining their views.

Opposition leaders say Mahase-Moiloa tabled a document that did not reflect their discussion.

According to its statement of objects and reasons, the Bill seeks to empower political parties to petition the High Court regarding the allocation of proportional representation seats.

It 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 seeks to review the current procedure followed when there is a vacancy in members of the national assembly, the statement says.

It also seeks to change classified terms used in elections to refer to election officials.

If enacted into law, the term “presiding officer” will change to “voting station manager” while “polling officer” will be referred to as “voting station officer”.

Instead of using the word “polling” commonly applied in elections, the word “voting” will now be officially used.

The statement says the Bill gives effect to the constitutional right of citizens to elect political leaders of their own choice “by secret ballot”.

“It provides for members of the National Assembly to be elected in terms of 80 constituencies and other 40 members to be elected in accordance with the system of proportional representation,” the statement says.

Unlike its predecessor, the statement says, the new law will provide additional powers, duties and functions to the Independent Electoral Commission.

But opposition leaders are fuming, accusing the minister of tabling a document that did not reflect “our discussion”.

Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) deputy leader Sello Maphalla said there were concerns in the opposition that Mahase had sneaked into parliament a document that was not totally in line “with what we agreed upon”.

“The Bill is not a product of our talks with the government, the Christian Council of Lesotho and the Independent Electoral Commission,” Maphalla said.

“The IEC, like us, also knows nothing about it. We therefore intend to fight it because in its current state the Bill is in stark contrast to what all stakeholders agreed to.”

Maphalla also accused Mahase-Moiloa of abusing her ministerial powers by “sneaking the Bill into the house”. 

The IEC law committee has been dealing with the contents of the Bill for a while now but the minister decided to sneak it into parliament without prior notice to all involved, Maphalla charged.

The main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane echoed Maphalla’s sentiments adding “government is always out on a mission to undermine the opposition”.

Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP) leader and opposition forum’s chairman Thabang Nyeoe said the opposition wants to compare the Bill with what they have discussed with the government and other stakeholders.

“We have asked the IEC law committee which consists of representatives of political parties to compare the contents of the Bill with a draft version of our discussions,” Nyeoe said.

It is to verify if features of the current Bill and what we agreed upon are similar, he said.

“We are hoping that we will have finished with our consultations by the time the Bill is referred back to the national assembly from the relevant portfolio committee”, Nyeoe said.

“We are doing this because for once we want to do away with the noise and conflicts that we have to put up with after every election here in Lesotho. We yearn for peace and tranquility,” Nyeoe said.

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