Opposition pushes for election delay

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MASERU — Opposition parties are pushing for the postponement of local government elections to allow for an amendment of the Local Government Elections Act, the Lesotho Times can reveal.
The parties, together with the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) held a closed meeting with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in Maseru yesterday to discuss sections of the Act that should be amended.
The local government elections were supposed to be held between March and April but the IEC is yet to announce a date.
The idea of the postponement, according to opposition sources, is that even if the parties agree on the amendments they are unlikely to have been passed by parliament by next month.
Also the parties would need to prepare for the elections.
This they say will not be achieved in the next two months.
The IEC has confirmed to the Lesotho Times that talks are ongoing between it and the parties on the proposed amendments to the Act.
However, the IEC spokesperson Tuoe Hants’i declined to comment further on the proposed amendments and whether the process would lead to the postponement of elections.
Hants’i said it was agreed that no party, including the IEC, would talk to the press about the discussions until all parties sign a joint communiqué.
“All stakeholders are currently in talks about the proposed amendments which you will know about when all parties have signed a communiqué,” Hantsi said.
“I cannot confirm whether the local government elections will be postponed or not.
“All I understand is that the law should be followed if there will be any postponement.”
However, a source who attended the talks told this paper that parties want a section that reserves special seats for women councilors repealed.
In 2005 when Lesotho held the first local government elections women stood unopposed by men in some electoral divisions in an effort to increase the number of women representatives in government.
Lesotho’s gender equality policy requires at least 30 percent of women in parliament and other government structures such as local government councils.
Hantsi said at present women make 52 percent in local government councils.
Opposition parties objected strongly when the electoral divisions marked for women were introduced.
Their chief argument was that the arrangement was denying voters their basic right to elect a person they want irrespective of his or her sex.
The arrangement, they said, forced people to elect women in their electoral divisions even if they wanted to elect men in those divisions.
The source also said the parties want the number of ballot boxes to be increased according to the number of parties and independent candidates contesting in each electoral division.
He said the parties say the ballots for each party should be counted from its ballot box “to avoid mistakes that go with mixing the ballots in one box.”
The source who was in the Wednesday meeting said the parties argued that this should be included in the local government election law. 
The Lesotho Workers Party deputy leader, Sello Maphalla, said the proposed amendments might take long to get parliamentary consent.
It was therefore necessary to delay the election.
 “Time is already not on our side and by the time the amendments are brought before parliament it will be too late to make preparations for elections in harmony with the amended law.
“It is logical that elections will have to be postponed.”
Maphalla however declined to go into the details saying it is the prerogative of the IEC and the parties to talk to the press about the matter.

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