Monitor wants local government polls postponed

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MASERU – The Committee on Monitoring of Electoral Processes wants local government elections, which had been set for May, postponed to August.

A progress report compiled by the committee which was presented to Lesotho political leaders and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) yesterday said it was almost impossible to hold the elections in May.

The committee said the IEC is well behind schedule, which makes it impossible for it to conduct elections “devoid of errors” in May.

It then suggests in its submission that end of August or early September “is a realistic time”.

“Based on the above, the committee recommends the end of August or early September 2011 as the realistic time for the holding of local government elections,” the committee said.

“Based on the IEC work plan, the committee’s observation is that the proposal (to hold elections in May) is ambitious,” the committee says.

“Certain events such as the demarcation of electoral divisions and tendering for the printing of ballot (papers) which was published in the press on March 11 are behind schedule.” 

The suggestion to have the elections held in May was made on March 3 during a routine IEC meeting but failed to attract support from party leaders. 

Most political parties welcomed the suggestion to postpone the elections.

Lesao Lehohla, who is the deputy leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party said “we need as much time as possible”. 

“After the demarcation of electoral divisions and voter registration, we can then focus on holding elections. Let us cross that bridge first, then we can do anything,” Lehohla said.

“Now which comes first? Setting a date for elections or preparing well for a smooth election? Unless if we’ll just rush things with the understanding that we’ll take responsibility for the outcome, good or bad.”  

Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP) deputy leader, Pelele Letsoela, echoed Lehohla’s sentiments, adding that due to Lesotho’s demographic set up it would be virtually impossible “to hold elections in the highlands in winter”.

“It makes sense to take our time instead of just subscribing to pressure emanating from the limited time at our disposal,” Letsoela said.

All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane was also of the opinion that “there’s no rush”.

“We need to do the right thing. Whichever date you choose, as long as it guarantees clean, fair and transparent elections, my party will support you,” Thabane said.

However, there was a dissenting voice from the LCD with secretary general and Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing saying he saw nothing wrong with “holding the elections in May”.

“I have reservations regarding the recommendation not to hold the elections in winter. The winter season is not a disaster here in Lesotho,” Metsing said.

“Besides, our local government polling stations are no more than two kilometres apart. Is the delay out of genuine concern or is it just because people are afraid of the winter?”

Meanwhile, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane blasted the information in the report such as the readiness of the IEC, voter education as well as the incorporation of the proportional representation model in “our local government elections”.

“These are things we expected the monitoring group to highlight. Maybe they did not have enough time,” Rakuoane said.

In the report, the committee states that although the demarcation of electoral divisions was scheduled to be completed within three days starting 14 March 2011, “this is not possible”.

“Many activities within demarcation have not been completed. We have been informed that activities relating to demarcation and groupings of villages would be deferred pending the advice of the electoral expert,” the report says.

However, it notes the expert had indicated that he would require a few days to familiarise himself with legislation and meet stakeholders “before tendering my advice”.

The report further raises issues around the procurement of electoral material, to which it says it has observed that “very few tenderers respond”.

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