IEC on track to hold local government elections


  • As politicians, civil society recommend postponement


MASERU – The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says it is on track to successfully hold the local government elections penciled for September, amid a chorus from other stakeholders to postpone the polls to a later date to allow finality to the ongoing reforms process. IEC director, Mpaiphele Maqutu, says suggestions that the process be deferred beyond the legally permitted period are ill-advised as the electoral body is guided by law, leaving the commission with no choice but to adhere to the same law while allowing the reforms process to also move forward.

Maqutu further points out that while the reforms are a very important process for the country, and that legislators should not wait to be told how to handle the process by external elements.

After all, they are paid to do the job, he added. Despite this declaration of readiness to facilitate hosting of the local government polls, politicians, civil society groups and the larger part of the community are concerned and argue that it is imprudent to proceed with the polls while the Local Government Bill of 2020, as contained in the Omnibus Bill, is yet to be enacted.

Speaking to Public Eye, Development for Peace Education (DPE) researcher, Lemohang Molibeli, said while they do not question the IEC’s readiness to hold the elections they believe that it will be wise for the commission and government to ensure that the Bill is passed before the country goes for the elections. Molibeli said without the legislation, the councilors that will be elected into power are bound to face similar challenges to those experienced by their predecessors and that this can only be avoided through enactment of the Bill. He said the Bill, among others, aims for decentralisation which would not only give councillors authority over finances but would also enable them to plan developments of their respective towns and councils without having to seek approval from central government.

“It has been our hope that the government will consider the passing of this Bill aimed at decentralisation and empowering the councillors as has been the position of many of us for ages,” Molibeli said. Also concerned is Senator Seabata Motsamai who states that the elections and reforms are a big issues and should not be taken lightly. He said when the current reforms restructure local government there will be a revolution which government should brace itself for.

Motsamai argued that time is already limited for voter education, which he said is one key element that is always, unfortunately, shoved to the peripheries when the country approaches elections. He said, at the most, in recent past elections voter education was conducted for only three weeks ahead of the polls.

Motsamai noted that considering the end of the tenure of incumbent councillors, which will be on September 30, the IEC will not have enough time for voter education, which at least needs 90 days. According to his calculations, the elections will be rightfully held on December, 90 days after end of current councillors’ tenure.

He added that should there be need for a referendum, IEC will need at least six months before elections to notify the voting public about the exercise. “Issues requesting referendum are similar to those of elections, they all require a 90 days’ period,” he said.

He stated that there is need for political parties, the IEC and civil society to look into the matter for informed decisions, emphasising the need to invest in civic education for at least six months before local government elections to avoid possible challenges.

“Already, we have 38 percent of voter turnout and this time around we are heading for 15 percent owing to lack of proper investment in local government election,” he said. Former Parliamentary Reforms Chairperson and member of the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), Moipone Piet, also felt it would be wise to postpone the local government elections until the Omnibus Bill is passed so that new councillors start work under the reformed local government.

She said continuing with reforms now would not only cause an inconvenience after the passing of the Omnibus Bill, but would also cost the government money it does not have.

This stance was supported the IEC legal director, Lehlohonolo Suping, while proposing for the local government elections to be held after the adoption of the Omnibus Bill. Suping indicated that the commission was, however, ready to hold the local government elections within the existing legal framework and within the given state of reforms.

He said when tenure for councillors comes to an end, it is expected that the IEC should hold fresh elections and that as long as legal instruments including the Constitution, the Local Government Act and Local Government Elections Act remain operational, the IEC has no other way but to proceed with the polls.

“It is unfortunate that a lot of people believe that the IEC has limited time to prepare for the elections and elections will only be held after the end of tenure of current councillors, that is not true.

The IEC is fully prepared to hold the local government elections in September at a day to be announced by the prime minister.”

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