Tensions rise over seats

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MASERU — A meeting called by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to deal with electoral issues collapsed yesterday after opposition parties insisted they wanted the dispute over parliamentary seats resolved first. 

The meeting, which was held at Victoria Hotel and attended by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, had to be adjourned after opposition parties said they wanted the issue of proportional representation seats to be resolved first before further engagement.

This is a sign of the rising tensions between the opposition and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD)-led government.

The tensions, which have been simmering since the 2007 elections, are nearly boiling over following last week’s report by Ketumile Masire who was appointed by SADC to mediate in the dispute over the allocation of seats.

Masire, who started his mission in June 2007, said he was aborting the mission because of the unwillingness of the Lesotho government to resolve the dispute.

The government told Masire the dialogue had run its course.

Yesterday’s meeting was attended by representatives of 14 opposition parties.

There are 21 registered political parties in Lesotho but some of them are dormant.

The IEC had organised the meeting to discuss a report on the Electoral Act, the delimitation of constituencies and local government elections that are set to be held next year.

Other issues on the agenda included local government by-elections and the new registration system.

But the opposition used the occasion to show their displeasure with the IEC and the government.

Opposition leaders present told IEC chairperson Limakatso Mokhothu they wanted the issues raised by Masire dealt with first. 

Majara Molapo, secretary of the Lesotho Opposition Parties Forum, confirmed the meeting had been adjourned.

“There was a common feeling among the opposition parties that the meeting should not continue because the issues it was meant to discuss were actually at the apex of the current dispute,” said Molapo, who is also secretary for publicity in the Basotho National Party (BNP).

“The Masire report was very clear that the allocation of those seats was faulty. It’s only fair that this issue be dealt with before we go into other issues.”

“We wanted to hear the position of the IEC on the issues raised by Masire. All those issues that were on the agenda are all facets to this broader issue,” he added.

Mokhothu had barely finished her opening remarks at the meeting when the leader of Marematlou Freedom Party, Vincent Malebo, raised his hand to interject.

According to officials who attended the meeting, Malebo said he appreciated that the meeting had been convened but he wanted the IEC to clarify its position on the seats in light of the Masire report.

Malebo, the officials said, told the IEC chairperson that is was wise that the commission pronounce its position to give context to the dialogue. Representatives from other opposition parties shared the same concerns.

ABC leader Thomas Thabane did not attend the meeting.

Metsing Lekhanya, leader of the BNP, did not attend as well but he told the Lesotho Times last night that he supported the decision.

“It is only fair that the IEC clarifies its position on the matter,” Lekhanya said.

Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who is also the LCD’s secretary-general, said his party wanted the meeting to continue.

He said Mosisili had suggested to the delegates that they allow the meeting to continue and take the chance to add other burning issues they had to the agenda.

“Our leader was only saying that the Masire report should not mean that life should stop,” Metsing said.

He said the opposition parties had said they wanted time “to cool down after reading the statement by Masire”.

“I think that it is unfortunate that the political parties denied themselves a chance to discuss crucial matters. They should have taken that opportunity.”

Meanwhile, the opposition parties have planned to hold a press conference today to announce the way forward.

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