AU upbeat on free elections prospects

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EVER since the March 2017 proclamation by King Letsie III that the country would hold snap national elections on 3 June 2017, the country has been alive with so much activity amid preparations for the auspicious event.

Political leaders have been crisscrossing the country to drum up support for their parties while civil society organisations have been consceintising the electorate on the importance of exercising their right to vote and choose their next government. International, continental and regional organisations have also sent observer missions to observe the atmosphere in the country before, during and in the immediate period after the polls this Saturday.

The Lesotho Times (LT) this week caught up with former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano (JC) who is leading the African Union AU Elections Observer Mission (AEOM) who shed light on the observer group’s activities and their impressions on the situation in Lesotho thus far ahead of the high stakes polls.

Below are excerpts of the interview.

LT: How are you President Chissano and welcome to the Mountain Kingdom. Perhaps you could start by sharing your impressions of the country as it prepares for the elections on Saturday.

JC: Thank you. Well, we have an advance team of the African Union observers. The first account from the team is that the country is peaceful and therefore we also foresee peaceful elections.

And I didn’t have time to travel any distance but we met some stakeholders starting with the government. I mean the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister with his team and we could see in them the sense of optimism that the elections will take place in a peaceful environment. We also met the military bosses and the police bosses, that is their commanders who gave us an account of the relationship between them to work together to provide full security for the elections and make sure that there’s peace and harmony among all those who are going to participate.

This gives us some assurance.

And we also met the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and we had the impression that they are ready to start the work and also they will have the means to transport the ballot papers even to the distant places where the roads are not so good. But they will have air transport to take the materials there on time.

So what we are going to do is to continue to meet other stakeholders and if we had time we would have met with the media for them to assist us in terms of input so that our mission can go smoothly. I don’t know whether we will have the time but we would also like to meet civil society organisations so that we have a balanced opinion before the elections.

So we wish for the best for the country which deserves stability. We know that there is a process of reforms that was started and which we hope will continue after the elections.

So we wish that after the elections there will be enough stability for that to happen because you need an atmosphere of calm for everybody to be able to participate freely.

LT: Seeing as you met with stakeholders, including Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and other government officials. Have you had the chance to meet with the any of the opposition leaders?

JC: No no, this is what I’m saying that we are going to proceed to meet all stakeholders. We will meet as much as possible the political parties but I understand there are 30 political parties and I don’t think that we have time to meet all of them.

But we will meet those we will be able to because they are also busy campaigning.

But we will take some samples that will give us a fair picture of the sentiments that people carry into the electoral process.

LT: For the sake of clarity, what is the role of AU observer mission? What is your mandate?

JC: It is to observe. So what we are going to do is to see if the conduct of the elections is done according to the laws of the country. We are not coming to say that it was not according to the way it was done in my country but it must be according to how it was established in this country; how the participation of citizens is done, the respect for all the rules that have been set and if the rules have been accepted.

Of course we shall also see if there was violence or intimidation to force someone in one way or another. We will observe all these things. There are the rules which were established: we have the electoral law and all other orders from the electoral commission.

LT: So when will you issue the first reports?

JC: Normally we do it as when we receive the first reports from the polling stations which is just the following day (after elections) and then we have another evaluation when the teams come back (from the polling stations).

LT: So how many people are part of your team?

JC: It’s 32. We will deploy them wherever we can because the numbers can’t go everywhere.

But we will be complemented by other groups like SADC. Normally we exchange notes, we have meetings with the different groups and we will do that.

LT: You spoke about the need for reforms in the post-election scenario. We know the leaders have also spoken about the need for reforms in as much as SADC has also spoken about the need for reforms. So did you get that commitment to implement reforms in your meetings with the leaders?

JC: Yes. They spoke about it, that after the elections, they expect that the government that is going to come out of the elections will take the reforms forward.

LT: What role, if any, will you play in the implementation of reforms?

JC: I don’t see for now because our role here for now is not of mediation. Of course some sort of mediation occurs in the elections. We could advise and so on but our role is observation not of mediation and if the Lesotho Kingdom needs some support they will know where to go but I understand that there was a SADC mediation. Maybe that one is going to continue.

The African Union of course receives reports from the regional organisations and so the African Union will know what is going on. There is the African Union’s political committee which analyses what is going on in all the countries and our report is going to be sent there.

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