OF the 1 253 643 people registered with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to vote, only 579 914 cast their votes in the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections.
This means only 46 percent of voters cast their ballots, despite the 85 percent target set by the IEC. The electoral body collaborated with civil society organisations in mobilising the electorate ahead of the snap polls.
The highest voter turnout was registered in Berea constituency with 56 percent, while the lowest was Ketane with 37 percent.
In this interview, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Programme Director Tsikoane Peshoane speaks with the Lesotho Times (LT) about the factors influencing voter turnout among other issues.
LT: The TRC participated in a voter education campaign to mobilise the electorate ahead of the elections. Together with the IEC, you set a target of 85 percent in terms voter turnout. What went wrong now that only 46 percent of voters cast their votes?
Peshoane: We failed to reach our target benchmark by over 40 percent. This means we failed dismally. The voter turnout has become a serious issue of concern. It shows there is serious voter apathy among the citizens. If there is apathy from the citizens, we will not be able to hold the government to account. If the government is not held to account, it becomes corrupt. It becomes irresponsible. This way, the citizens are just giving politicians a blank cheque to do as they please with their taxes. This issue is a cause for serious concern.
LT: What caused this?
Peshoane: We need to first understand the problem. If you look at the elections results, you will realise that where there was better turnout, there was high competition among the contesting political parties. It means that for us to stimulate high voter turnout, there should be activities that create competition among contesting political parties. The parties must compete with their policies before the people. That promotes the electorate's participation in the polls. Checking from the results, one realises that where there was better voter turnout, the competition was high between the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC) or the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LDC). Those three parties did their assignment well by mobilising voters through competition. Parties themselves are very instrumental in this regard. Indeed, we must acknowledge that the ABC, DC and LCD were major contributors in the voter turnout. When you look at the results, they took a huge chunk of the votes. Look at the scenario of Thabana-Morena constituency where the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) obviously competed with the LCD only. Almost all the votes in that constituency were centred on the MEC, which won with a huge margin over the LCD. This takes us to a point where we are saying the winning parties took a huge chunk of the votes in constituencies. We have seen this with the ABC, LCD and DC as well as with the Alliance of Democrats (AD) where they have won. You also find that these parties have won with huge margins in the constituencies of their leaders. This means the focus is on the leaders.
This means there is an inequality in the distribution of resources within the parties. Another good example of that is the Basotho National Party (BNP). Although the party has failed to win where the leader stood for elections in Mount Moorosi, the number of votes were relatively high compared to how the party performed in other constituencies.
LT: What about the other parties that unsuccessfully contested in the elections?
Peshoane: I will make an example of the Maseru constituency where more than 19 parties contested in the elections. But the majority of them garnered zero percent while the winning party got a huge chunk of the votes. It means those parties are basically non-existent. They can't even be voted for by their own political agents. It means they are bogus parties. We have a lot of bogus political parties in this country.
LT: What do you think is the reason the turnout was poor in some constituencies and not in others?
Peshoane: The constituencies in the northern part of the country seemed to have better voter turnout than constituencies in the southern region. Most constituencies in the north had voter turnout ranging from around 50 to 56 percent. Conversely, we saw a significant decline going southwards. This could mean a lot of things. It could mean that where there are no developments, particularly in terms of infrastructure, there is low voter participation. Most of these constituencies were previously won by the DC. Although the DC won in 26 constituencies, it lost in most constituencies in the south. Generally, civil participation in governance matters in the south is very poor. As a result, we are beginning to see a low voter turnout. Mohale's Hoek and Quthing districts are points of reference in this issue. Most constituencies in these districts are experiencing a very low voter turnout. The constituency that got the lowest voter turnout is Ketane in Mohale's Hoek with 37 percent. Other constituencies in the districts have around 39 to 45 percent. You only begin to see a major change in Qacha's Nek. As civil society organisations, political parties and the government we must take into consideration the fact that the residents of Mohale's Hoek and Quthing are not making voting like their counterparts in the north.
LT: Outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Tsikoane constituency in Qacha's Nek had a low voter turnout of just 41 percent. What is your take of this given that he was the premier and DC leader?
Peshoane: Ntate Mosisili has dropped numbers compared to how he performed in the previous elections. It tells you that this phenomenon is becoming a problem that must be addressed. But generally, the party he leads has managed to secure 50 percent of the total votes in most constituencies. It tells you that the DC seems to be playing its part by mobilising its supporters while some other parties are as good as not there. The blame for the voter apathy cannot necessarily be pinned on the party. If there were parties contesting efficiently and effectively in those areas that could have promoted political consciousness of the people to take part in the elections. Why are these many parties unable to penetrate in such constituencies? They should account for that. We have a lot of bogus parties. We have 30 political parties registered with the IEC. Twenty seven of them contested for the elections, but more than 50 percent of those parties have not qualified even for a single seat in parliament! Not only that, but the majority of them have also failed to secure the 500 threshold they used to register with the IEC! The question is where are those people? The meaning of this is that the country has been populated by a lot of bogus parties.