/ 6 October 2022

Lesotho is ready for elections, although concerns linger

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Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

With just hours to go before Lesotho held general elections, the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said it was ready to facilitate the smooth running of the poll and the announcement and publication of the results. 

However, the failure to pass and implement the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill poses several challenges for the incoming government. The implementation of the national reforms process started in May when all the major parties in parliament signed a pledge to pass the amendments, commonly known as the “Omnibus Constitutional Bill”, by the end of June. This was to ensure the legislation could go through before parliament was dissolved 90 days before the elections.

According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the reforms – meant to usher in a new era of stability in Lesotho – are the result of years of discussions among political parties, civil society and other role players, mediated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

It amends key provisions regarding political parties, floor-crossing in parliament, the appointment of senior officials and the role of the prime minister. However, the bill was not passed when the session of parliament ended on July 14.

Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro declared a state of emergency – one of two conditions under which a dissolved parliament can be recalled. The ISS says the declaration was due to pressure from South Africa and SADC. Lesotho has missed several deadlines set by SADC to implement legal reforms that would help ensure political stability.

After the state of emergency was declared, King Letsie III recalled parliament to pass the Omnibus Constitutional Bill and the National Assembly Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022 – two laws deemed critical ahead of the 7 October general elections.

The bills were consequently passed but, on 12 September, the high court (sitting as the constitutional court) concluded that the state of emergency, as well as the reconvening of parliament, were null and void.

All laws passed by the recalled parliament were also declared null and void.

Majoro and the attorney general, advocate Rapelang Motsieloa, appealed the high court ruling but the court of appeal dismissed it with costs.

Although the constitution of parliament is still unclear, this election is highly contested, with at least 2 560 constituency candidates. More than 50 parties are contesting the polls and 139 parliamentary seats will be allocated, including mixed-member proportional representation seats. 

Speaking at the launch of the Manthabiseng Convention Centre in Maseru as the official results hub on Wednesday, IEC commissioner Dr Karabo Mokobocho-Mohlakoana said all the necessary processes leading up to the announcement and publication of the election results were in place. 

“All results counting will take place at the polling centres where they will then be transmitted to the respective constituencies. At the constituency offices, additions of all constituency polling centre results will be done and checked in the presence of stakeholders,” said Mokobocho-Mohlakoana.

After all the constituency results have been checked, a retaining officer will announce the results and the winner. These results will be collected at the district office where they will be electronically communicated to the national results publication centre.

Lesotho has held elections under the watch of local observer group the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations since 1993.

The executive director Seabata Motsamai said they were ready to assess the elections and had 300 observers, two-thirds of whom would be stationed at voting stations.

Motsamai said the observation mission’s mandate remained the same – to independently, objectively and impartially assess the electoral process, in accordance with the provisions of international standards and principles.

Also observing the elections are representatives from the European Union, SADC, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, among other global observers.

Meanwhile, political parties contesting the elections have committed to holding peaceful and free elections.

Facilitated by the Christian Council of Lesotho, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, the parties agreed to honour the constitution and laws of Lesotho, observe the electoral code of conduct and to commit to peace building and reconciliation after the elections.

Speaking on behalf of the Revolution for Prosperity party, former chief justice Nthomeng Majara said they did not take the pledge lightly as their party embraced the restoration of peace, oneness and unity among the people.

“We are not just signing because we are told to do so; it is because we value its importance and I hope our colleagues also do not sign for the sake of it but because they truly understand the importance for the Basotho that we are looking to lead,” said Majara.

Addressing the political parties, resident coordinator for the UN in Lesotho Amanda Khozi Mukwashi said the UN was committed to supporting Basotho going into the elections. 

Mukwashi commended politicians for striving for democracy, despite challenges they faced.

“Yes, sometimes they are painful, sometimes there are struggles but that is the nature of governance and democratic processes. And I want to salute you because you always come together; you struggle for democracy, governance for the peace of your country and this is highly commendable.”

This story is brought to you by a collaboration between the Mail & Guardian and Newsday Lesotho.