New electoral law passed

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MASERU — Individual voters can now sue the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and petition the courts to order it to reallocate parliamentary seats, according to an amendment passed by parliament last Wednesday.

The amendment to the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2011 which was unanimously passed by 94 MPs who were in parliament when it was put to vote will allow MPs and political parties to sue if they feel the IEC has wrongly allocated parliamentary seats.

“Now all those who have a locus standi in elections can approach the courts to challenge the allocation of proportional representation seats even if the IEC believes it has allocated them properly,” Justice Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa said when she tabled the Bill which will now be pushed to the senate for further debate.

After the senate the Bill will have to get royal assent before it becomes law.

Until now voters, MPs and political parties were not allowed to petition the court or sue the electoral commission to reverse the allocation of proportional representation seats.

Also, only the IEC had the right to approach the courts if it felt that it had wrongly allocated the seats.

“The High Court can, amongst others, now deal with the issue of whether proportional representation seats have been properly allocated,” Mahase-Moiloa said.

The new amendment gives parties the right to petition the Court of Appeal if they are not satisfied with the High Court rulings on other electoral matters.

Before the amendment the decision of the High Court on any electoral dispute was not appealable.

The amendment is meant to avoid the long-drawn clashes that erupted between the IEC and opposition parties over the allocation of proportional representation (PR) seats after the 2007 general elections.

After the elections opposition parties, led by the All Basotho Convention (ABC), complained that the commission had wrongly allocated at least nine of the 40 PR seats to the National Independent Party (NIP), an ally of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party.

The ABC and its then ally, the Lesotho Workers’ Party (LWP), complained bitterly that some of the seats should have been allocated to the LWP.

Other opposition parties accused the commission of pinching their seats and giving them to the NIP which later formed the government with the LCD.

This led to the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) approaching the High Court for redress only to be told by Justice Semapo Peete that the party did not have a right to sue because it had not registered with the IEC as an electorate.

Justice Peete ruled that the High Court did not have jurisdiction over the matter and dismissed the MFP’s case with costs.

That decision angered opposition parties and set the tone for the next four tumultuous years that would later involve the regional Southern African Development Community bloc and the Christian Council of Lesotho in efforts to solve the dispute.

The IEC did not go to the High Court for an order to reallocate seats after the opposition parties complained.

The LCD and the government, which were resolute that the issue of allocation of PR seats had been settled by the courts and therefore irreversible, refused to engage in talks after electoral experts ruled that the proportional representation system had been manipulated to benefit the ruling party.

The LWP deputy leader, Sello Maphalla, who seconded the passing of the Bill said it was satisfying that at last people affected by allocation of PR seats are not restricted from petitioning the courts to deal with the matter.

He said it was also good that parliament had heeded Justice Peete’s advice to amend the constitution.

“We as the parliament have counselled ourselves to take the advice of Judge Semapo Peete and in future parties like the MFP will be able to challenge the allocation of proportional representation seats in the courts,” Maphalla said.

Thomas Thabane, the hard-to-please leader of the ABC, said he had sworn that he would never agree with Mahase-Moiloa “on anything but this time I agree with her that this Bill be passed.”

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