House committee facelifts electoral Bill

 

Proposes raft changes on floor-crossing, PR quota and eligibility

 

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – A parliamentary law and public safety cluster portfolio committee has issued a myriad of amendments proposed to the national electoral law – giving a facelift to a Bill presented to the National Assembly on June 3 by justice and law minister Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane. After presentation to the august House, the National Assembly Electoral (Amendment) Bill of 2022, was referred to the portfolio committee for consideration, following which Rakuoane was invited to brief the committee on the policy context, financial implications, contents and effects of the Bill.

The committee has recommended that the Bill be passed as amended, following careful and thorough consideration and for its findings, and recommendations to be adopted by the House. On the requirements for political party registration, the committee proposes for a provision to appear in the Bill that a political party shall apply for registration with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) if it has a minimum of 5 000 paid-up membership.

“Section 24 of the principal law is amended in (a) subsection (1), at the paragraph (f), by deleting 500 and substituting 5 000; and (b) subsection (3), in line 3, by deleting 500 and substituting 5 000,” the committee proposed to raise the current minimum membership requirement to 5 000. A political party intending to contest proportional representation elections shall pay a deposit of M8 000, according to the proposed amendments. The same political party which will have contested in the elections shall be entitled to be allocated a Proportional Representation (PR) seat if it has obtained at least 0.4 percent of all valid votes cast.

“The committee also proposes that the Bill has a provision that a political party that has contested in the elections only qualifies for a seat if it has obtained a threshold of 0.4 percent of all valid votes cast,” reads the report. Section 47 of the principal Act is repealed and substituted with the following Section 47 (1), which will now read a political party shall not submit a party list for 40 compensation seats before voting is complete, the proposal outlines.

It goes further to say the compensation seats referred to shall be allocated to the best losers of a political party, in a sequential order, ranking from the leader of that political party, the candidate who has obtained the highest number of votes to the candidate who has obtained the lowest number of votes.

The IEC shall determine 0.4 percent of the total votes cast, then identify the political parties which have attained less than 0.4 percent of the total votes cast and disqualify them for consideration for allocation of proportional representation seats. The commission will then determine the total votes for political parties which qualify for consideration for allocation of PR seats. The committee further proposes that parties be deregistered if they have failed to obtain this threshold in the general elections; and that such parties can re-register six years from the date on which their registration was cancelled.

The legislators also propose for rules on elected members on issues of floor crossing. The committee proposes that the Bill should stipulate that members representing constituencies shall not cross the floor before the end of three years after the beginning of a term of parliament or before the Speaker of the National Assembly has determined a 15-day window period.

Further, it is of the view that any member who crosses the floor before the end of three years shall vacate their seat in the National Assembly. The Committee advocates for the provision for conditions which a member of the National Assembly, through proportional representation, shall abide by in terms of floor crossing or retaining his or her seat in the National Assembly.

“A member of the National Assembly representing a constituency may cross the floor; (a) at the end of three years after the beginning of a term of parliament; and (b) after the Speaker of the National Assembly has determined a 15-day window period. A member who crosses the floor, at any time outside the period referred to in Subsection (1), shall vacate his or her seat in the National Assembly, and by-election shall be held in that constituency,” the report says.

The amendments further bar any person who is a PR member of the National Assembly from crossing the floor, and that if they so wish to cross, or they expressly renounce the membership of the party whose seat they occupy in the House or join another political party, they shall vacate their seats. The political party whose seat they had occupied in the National Assembly, after following due process, shall inform the Speaker of the National Assembly that the person is no longer a member of that party.

According to the Ministry of Justice and Law, the National Assembly Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2022, is meant to amend the National Assembly Electoral Act of 2011. The Bill amends the 2011 Act in an attempt to promote a stable democracy by holding free and fair elections that will contribute to national peace and stability. The Bill also intends to promote a united and prosperous nation at peace with itself and its neighbours.

Under application for registration, the Bill provides for the improvement of the current electors to register for the local government as well as the national elections by use of national identity cards. The Bill also makes provision for registered electors legally residing outside Lesotho to participate in the national or local government elections and vote as advance electors.

However, provisions relating to diaspora voting will be transitional until such a time when proper voting arrangements in foreign countries are made. The Bill further makes provision for the tribunal to impose any sanction it considers appropriate under the circumstance where there has been an alleged infringement of the code of conduct. The National Assembly Electoral Act of 2011 had stipulated that the tribunal shall make recommendations to the Director of Elections, but the Bill proposes to make the tribunal’s decision final.

Lastly, the Bill has financial implications. At most, M100 million will be used for the preliminary activities such as voter education, review of the electors’ register as well as hiring temporary staff, according to the committee.

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