/ 7 October 2022

Lesotho’s voters forced to choose between salaries and right to vote

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‘No work, no pay’ for employees who won’t report for duty on election day. (Photo by Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Friday has been declared a public holiday by King Litsie III to allow everyone a chance to exercise their right to vote when polls open. But some businesses say their employees will be penalised if they do not pitch up for work. 

On Friday, Basotho are heading to the polls to elect a new prime minister and government. 

Most government employees were instructed by the government secretary, Lerotholi Pheko, to knock off by midday on Thursday, while a skeleton staff would work until the end of day. Other employers were also encouraged to release their staff members earlier so they could travel to their constituencies.

But some employers say they expect their employees to report for duty or a “no work, no pay” policy will apply. 

By refusing to allow employees to have time off on election day, they are contravening the National Assembly Electoral Act of 2011, which states that employers should not penalise staff members for being absent on election day.

A manager of a clothing store told Newsday Lesotho that salaries of employees who failed to come to work would be cut.

The manager, who asked not to be named, said they would heed the government’s call to allow employees to go and vote but the decision on salary cuts rested on businesses.

“Questions regarding the salary cuts of the employees should be sought from the government because we did not create the holiday,” said the manager.

The distance from Maseru to places where people vote, such as Qasha’s Nek, a district some 224 kilometres from the capital, is a concern for some employees. 

“We are forced out of work for something that is not going to benefit us at all but instead will cost us our salaries, some of us will not be able to make it to the polling stations because our bosses never made plans for us to do so,” said one driver who wanted to remain anonymous. 

Public sentiments on the streets of Maseru, after campaigning had stopped on Wednesday, were varied.

Mookho Molefi, 59, said she would not be deterred by the low morale she had observed towards this year’s elections. 

“In comparison to the past, there is so much change in the political environment, people are not certain of the outcome of these elections so other people are working real hard to lobby us into voting for their parties,” said Molefi.

Nqoi Lechesa, 32, said none of the political parties contesting the elections had convinced him to vote for them. 

“I will not be voting because the faces are changing while the country remains the same. I have voted before, several times actually, and I realised it doesn’t change a thing,” said Lechesa. 

As a young person who has voted in the past, Lechesa said the poor delivery of services and the misuse of taxpayers’ money were some of the reasons he was staying away from the polls. 

“These politicians are creating more political parties to fill their tummies while there is nothing for the people,” added Lechesa. 

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