Voters’ roll inflated by 100 000

MASERU — Lesotho’s voters’ roll is currently inflated by over 110 000 voters due to failure to clean the register regularly.
In a report titled, ‘The State of the voters’ roll as at July 2011’, which was presented to the country’s political leaders yesterday, R W Johnson, an election expert, yesterday said there was need for Lesotho to regularly clean up the roll to remove names of deceased voters.
Johnson said the voters’ roll currently had 987 180 registered voters, a figure he said was highly unusual because of the HIV/Aids pandemic.
Johnson said another factor that had contributed to the inflated figures in the voters’ roll was the failure by the electoral commission to remove the names of the deceased from the roll, giving the misleading notion that there are more registered voters “than there really are”.
Johnson was contracted by the IEC earlier this month to assess the state of the voters’ roll after outgoing commissioner Malefetsane Nkhahle alleged that it was in disarray and that there was need for a fresh voter re-registration.
Nkhahle’s allegation drew fire from fellow IEC commissioners, chairperson Limakatso Mokhothu and Fako Likoti who felt he should have submitted his thoughts in writing instead of blurting them out in an open meeting.
Mokhothu was further irked by the fact that Nkhahle had not bothered to discuss his sentiments with the commission beforehand.
However, Johnson, who in February discovered that Zimbabwe’s voter’s roll was massively defective with some 2.5 million more registered persons, says there was no indication that the figures in Lesotho were deliberately inflated.
In his report, released after three days of scrutinising the voters’ roll, he says despite the weaknesses in the system, there was no need for absolute re-registration exercise but that the IEC should at least re-register voters every five years “to eliminate deceased voters”.
“I had only the overall figures of the
15 —19 age group to play with and had to estimate the number of 18 and 19-year-olds (those old enough to register and vote),” Johnson says.
“I did this by simply considering the fact that this category counted persons aged 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 and supposing that they were equally distributed and that the 18 and 19-year-olds constituted 40 percent of the total population.”
This calculation, though crude, Johnson notes, is likely to be accurate.
With that, Johnson says, he was able to compute a voting age in 2006 of 1 090 347.
“Assuming this had grown at the same rate as the general population, that would give the voting population in 2011 of 1 094 719.”
He noted that the numbers of individuals who receiving government pension grants (aged 65 — 75) seemed to be high although there was indication that many of them could have died.
He attributes this to families deliberately failing to report deaths of persons of pension-receiving age owing to the abject poverty and rampant HIV/Aids so that they can continue getting the M300 grants long after the qualifying beneficiaries have died.
“Old age pensions of M300 a month are paid by the state and in many poor families provide an absolutely crucial revenue stream, supporting not just the old but many others too,” Johnson says.
“The temptation is strong in such milieux to keep collecting the pension long after the aged recipient dies.
“Thus one may easily build up a body of phantom older voters who are maintained in the voters’ roll as part of the general fiction that they are still alive.”
Although Johnson believes Lesotho’s voters roll is excellent from the point of view of inclusive democracy, because of the nature of its continuous registration “it is less good when it comes to cleaning the roll of the names of deceased or migrated citizens”.
“The only remedy is to have periodic re-registration exercises as in developed countries like South Africa, preferably once every five years just before elections,” Johnson suggests.
“This automatically cleans the roll of dead or migrated voters. However, such exercises are costly, (this is) understandably why a poor country like Lesotho has not adopted this model.”
However, Lesotho should aim to move to such a system as this is the only way to prevent a build-up of dead voters on the roll, “a situation which inevitably sparks political controversy”, the report says.
Government and opposition leaders contacted by this paper for comment on the report said they were not in a position to speak to the media until the contents had been discussed between them and the IEC.

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