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Govt reserves M136m for elections

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Government has set aside M136 million for the initial preparations for next year’s elections. This was disclosed by the Finance Minister, Thabo Sofonea, in his maiden budget speech to parliament for the 2021/2022 financial year on Wednesday.

“The Government, through Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), is finalising the review of constituency boundaries which started two years ago but could not be completed due to the absence of IEC Commissioners,” Sofonea told parliament. He said IEC would harmonise the electoral laws with the aim of holding the local government elections and national assembly elections concurrently in 2022.

“An amount of M136 million is set aside for the initial preparation of the 2022 National Elections,” he said. The funds will be used for, among others, re-registration of voters with the aim of improving quality of voter register and development of civic voter education curriculum to improve participation of stakeholders in electoral process. It will be the first time that Lesotho goes to elections after full five years since May 2012.

The period from May 2012 has been marked by political instability, alleged attempted coup and two snap elections, and power changed hands three times from 2015 to 2020. The last election was held on June 3, 2017, and it came on the heels of former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili losing a vote of no-confidence in parliament in March. This was after Mosisili’s cumbersome seven-party coalition degenerated into fighting less than two months after taking office.

This was the second coalition government failure. The first coalition, made up of All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) led by ABC leader Motsoahae Thabane had also crumbled only two years after taking office, leading to election which was held in February 2015.

The June 2017 election produced a third four-party coalition led by Thabane. This coalition collapsed last year in parliament and it was replaced by a grand coalition of ABC and Democratic Congress (DC). Dr Moeketsi Majoro became prime minister. For the last scheduled election in May 2012, the then Minister of Finance, Dr Timothy Thahane, set aside M51 million.

“I need not remind the Honourable Members that this is the National Election Year. IEC is ready to deliver an efficiently run and fair Election,” Thahane told parliament on January 18, 2012. He said IEC would be supported “in this National endeavor” by political parties, Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), the police, the media, the monitors, observers and all their experts. “M51 Million has been set aside for this national project. We wish them every success because their success is our success and pride,” Thahane said then.

While government has set aside M136 million for the initial preparations for the 2022 elections, research shows that majority of Basotho support abolishing elections and parliament in favour of rule by the King. Lesotho is also challenged by a worrying trend of dwindling voter turnout. The trend indicates that the country’s eligible electorate’s appetite to exercise their voting right has dissipated.

Voter turnout was 72 percent in 1993 and 74 percent in 1998. It dropped to 46.85 percent in 2017. The impact of low turnout on the decisions made by elections is crucial. The lower the turnout, according to political analysts, the greater the chance that the election result is not the outcome preferred by the population of potential voters.

Numerous pundits and political practitioners have concluded that low turnout in elections is a serious threat to democracy and that the most important impact of low electoral turnout is that decisions are made by a minority of the population, leading to unstable governments.

A research by Afrobarometer found that across the board, Basotho had grown jaded about elections and warned that elections fan base was shrinking, especially among younger people. In fact, so rampant was elections indifference and disengagement among Basotho that a shocking share of them were open to trying something new, according to the research which findings were published in 2019.

The survey found that fewer than half (48 percent) of Basotho supported elections as the best way to choose their leaders, a drop of 25 percentage points from 73 percent in 2014. Last year Afrobarometer said its survey found that two thirds of Basotho would support abolishing of elections and parliament in favour of the rule by the King.

It said the finding seemed to confirm and extend a 2017 survey finding that three-fourths (75 percent) of citizens wanted the King to “have more say on issues of national importance”. “The King is also the most widely trusted leader or institution in Lesotho, trusted by about five times as many citizens as the prime minister,” Afrobarometer said.

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