Civic bodies want improved electoral law

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Lesotho’s civil society organisations have made submissions to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) regarding its findings and recommendations on the country’s ten governance issues which may need improvement, including the electoral law. It its submission, the group recommends, among others, amendment of the electoral law to raise a minimum threshold from 5 000 votes to a larger number for seat allocation in parliament so that those with smaller number of votes do not make it to parliament, noting that this will prevent excessive fragmentation of political representation.

Lesotho has about 60 registered political parties planning to contest in the next election and with a total population of just over two million, perhaps the nation can be counted among those nations with the largest number of parties per capita globally. The recommendation follows findings by the civil society during a country review project that was done by 14 civil society organisations with the project being coordinated by the Governance Institute for Sustainable Development (GISD).

The country review identified 10 governance issues including the electoral system, separation of powers, decentralisation and service delivery, weak accountability leading to corruption and malfeasance, poor infrastructure, gender-based discrimination under customary law, weak corporate governance, lopsided and ineffective public policy making and perpetual poverty, deprivation and socio-economic inequalities.

Speaking on the electoral system GISD managing director, Mzimkhulu Sithetho, said it was found out that the system has been manipulated by politicians to create networks of alliances. This has, in turn, fuelled a proliferation of small parties, and created a situation where representatives are more responsive to their parties than the voters. He said the manipulated system has led to political instability as a result of contested electoral out comes.

He further stated that the complexity of the system creates difficulties as many voters do not understand it so he recommended increased threshold for parties to secure representation in parliament and introduction of proper voter education. HOPE secretary general, Retšelisitsoe Lesane, says he supports the recommendation to increase the threshold for political parties to secure seats in parliament.

He, however, noted that it will make more sense if this kind of requirement was done from the registration stage, and only allow political parties with at least 5 000 members to register with the Independent Electoral Commission instead of 500 members required under the current rules. Lesane added that the recommendation will make even more sense if it was done in percentages so that it can be proportional to voter turnout.

Lesane said every party that represents Basotho deserves a seat in parliament but it has to represent a significant number of people to secure a seat in parliament. He, however, said what is not right is for political parties to be always associated with elections all the time as if elections are their main target. He said elections are just part of political parties’ roles noting that there are parties, including HOPE that are determined and are working towards sustainable development of people with or without elections.

He said political parties can only contest elections when they feel fit to do so but should not make elections their main target. Basotho National Party deputy secretary general, Moeketsi Hanyane, says the 5 000 or more thresholds will be a remedy to the challenge Lesotho is currently facing whereby people start political parties as if they are opening cafes. He said most political leaders have started parties not for the purpose of leading people and ensuring that they are heard and their needs are met but for their own financial gain.

A lot of political parties were started when the National Reforms Authority was established with the aim to get money out of the entity, he added. He said with the threshold increased, not more than 10 political parties will make it to parliament after the coming elections. The Lesotho parliament is expected to pass a Bill, probably before elections that will ensure that changes such as the elections threshold are made into law and that political parties which cannot amass enough votes from the polls are scrapped from the register or suspended for a period of at least one electoral term.

 

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