9 June 2017

Lesotho: IEC Needs More Resources - LCN

THE Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) has recommended the overhaul of the voters' roll, voter education and the allocation of more resources to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as part of a raft of measures to improve the management and conduct of elections in the country.

The LCN made the recommendations in the aftermath of Saturday's snap polls in which outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Democratic Congress (DC) party and its allies lost to the opposition bloc parties which are set to form the new coalition government.

Lesotho has 80 electoral constituencies and there are a further 40 proportional representation (PR) seats, bringing the total number of National Assembly seats to 120.

The DC contested in 55 constituencies after signing an election pact with Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) in a bid to retain power.

The three parties however, fell short of the 61 seat threshold required to form government after collectively bagging only 44 parliamentary seats in Saturday's elections.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by Thomas Thabane is set to form government after combining its 48 seats with those of the Alliance of Democrats (AD-nine seats), Basotho National Party (BNP-five seats) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL-one seat).

The four parties have 63 seats.

The LCN commended the IEC, the electorate and the media "for their conduct during the elections" which it described as "generally peaceful and calm".

It however, noted several concerns including "the presence of heavily armed military officers in the vicinity including inside the premises of the polling stations, such as those situated in the Peka #17, Abia #36, Berea #27, Khubetsoana #28, Maseru Central #32, Maseru Stadium # 31, Thetsane # 33, Thaba Bosiu # 38 constituencies".

"This caused intimidation to some voters taking into consideration diverse public perceptions on the military. Despite IEC directive that they should vacate voting premises, they did not comply.

The (LCN) Mission notes that presence of the soldiers militarised elections and as such posed a challenge for free electoral process. This is unheard of since 1993."

However, Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) spokesperson Superintendent Clifford Molefe and the LDF's Public Affairs head, Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi have maintained there was nothing untoward about the army's presence at polling stations, adding that the country's laws explicitly stipulate that the LDF can assist the police and vice versa.

Supt Molefe also stated that no incident of violence or intimidation had been reported to the police during election day.

Furthermore, the LCN expressed concern that most polling stations were not easily accessible to voters with disabilities.

It also noted that although vote counting was done in a transparent and open manner, there were some instances where counting was done under poor lighting and in big rooms especially where there was no electricity and this caused delays in the counting process.

LCN further stated that although IEC staff were independent and impartial, there were "some isolated incidences where the officers portrayed lack of confidence during the counting or decision-making processes in the polling stations".

"It can be concluded that majority of the polling staff lacked proper training about the electoral process, perhaps this matter continues to be experienced due to the nature of Lesotho elections and therefore requires new approaches by IEC," LCN said in in its report.

It therefore recommended among other measures that "more resources should be allocated to IEC to allow for the smooth running of the elections in order to procure necessary facilities and materials such as proper lighting in areas without electricity, enough space, vehicles as well as helicopters to be used to collect results in hard to reach areas".

"It is recommended that an effort is made to decentralise the polling centres for easy access that will not require any financial implications.

"It is further recommended that election materials should also be presented in accessible formats such as, in braille and large print to ease and promote participation of people with disabilities," the LCN stated.

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