Of civic bodies and missteps in running elections

. . . taking stock of 2022 polls

Post-election evaluation, assessment, peer review or audit is always expected and is indeed a trend which is catching on in new and emerging democracies.

This development is useful in identifying strengths and weaknesses, not only in the organisation of the election, but also in the organisational structure of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) concerned.

Post-election evaluation of whatever kind and intensity is best done by experts from outside IEC to earn greater credibility. Public Eye reporter, MATHATISI SEBUSI (PE), spoke to Development for Peace Education (DPE) Peace Education Researcher, LEMMY MOLIBELI (LM), to establish the challenges encountered beginning with voter education until election day.

PE: The DPE formed part of the national observer mission headed by the Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN). What have elections got to do with the centre?

LM: Yes, DPE was part of the local observers’ mission but that was done under the LCN because this year IEC instructed all the NGOs that were going to be part of electoral education not to go for observation as was the case in the past.

The DPE was engaged in the electoral education by the IEC focused on 11 constituencies which were identified as the ones with the lowest voter turnout.

DPE was deploying different strategies to address the issue of voter apathy where it was declining in the past three years. The focus was mainly towards particular formations in the constituencies such as football teams, churches, women social gatherings (pitiki) and village health workers.

PE: How was the team constituted and what places did you cover?

LM: The team was made up of two sections; a mobile team and a stationary team. I was part of the stationed team which was deployed within the Thetsane constituency at Thetsane High School polling station which had more than six polling stations with different doors.

PE: The nation has successfully voted and, according to the national observer mission’s report, the process was peaceful and successful to an extent. Can you point to a number of outstanding concerns you came across that you would wish for the IEC to address?

LM: I agree with that issue of a peaceful electoral process but here are two to three things which were constraints. The issue of the voters’ roll was a concern as much as the IEC head office responded accordingly but that needs to be addressed in the future.

There was also a situation where IEC officials had a voters’ roll which has no names of voters while party agents had a voters’ roll with names. The other issue was the names of the people appearing at other polling stations within the same constituency. Still there was the worst scenario where some people were appearing outside their constituencies. One would understand when this happened to someone voting at Thetsane constituency due to new constituencies boundaries.

PE: Financial constraints have been listed as one of the concerns that have restricted IEC from performing to its maximum capacity, considering that the government has declared the country broke for some time now. How best can financial challenges on the part of the IEC be addressed?

LM: Yes, money was a challenge for IEC to administer this year elections, but IEC should know from the onset who the primary stakeholders are so that when money becomes a challenge then other stakeholders can suggest what can be done within the boundaries of the law.

It was so embarrassing to see the staff of the IEC at polling stations without branded clothing which would make them easy to recognise.

PE: Can you please mention limitations to the IEC’s performance that could have been caused by lack of money?

LM: Production of election materials, from voters roll to voter education material and engagement of other stakeholders was done very late, especially civil society organisations.

PE: In your report, you further mentioned that disabled persons were not prepared for, that the environment in voting stations was not user-friendly, especially to physically disabled persons. What does this say about Lesotho’s failure to accommodate these sections of society?

LM: That was observed at Thetsane High School where the block which was used was a two-story flat and the only way to access it was to use the stairs, so for someone using a wheel-chair that was a big challenge.

PE: Can you say IEC staff were well trained to see through the elections without any problem, and why?

LM: The training of the staff was fine, the only problem was the attitude of the team at polling centres where one would find that the station manager was performing almost all the tasks… but in other centres there was team work within the IEC, to the extent that all officials would be engaged for the various tasks.

PE: What areas should the IEC try to improve on?

LM: The IEC did a commendable thing to allow people to update their registration through the internet but that alone is not enough. IEC has to monitor that system seriously to respond to challenges quickly. That thing of having a WhatsApp number to respond to the questions and queries should be there throughout.

PE: There has been a recorded decline in voter turnout, what could be the cause of this?

LM: There are thousands of voters concerned. Most of the people have been voting since 1993 but it looks like what they have been voting for was not satisfactory. Most of the people who want to be elected promised the electorate things which were not in their control, including the same parties they are coming from.

People are tired of dishonest or empty promises. For most of the parties that monopolise this process those who used to vote for them decided otherwise, some did not go to vote while others voted for other parties.

 PE: One key issue to any country’s electoral process is voter education. Do you have a role to play enhancing voter education, and if so how?

LM: Yes, the electoral process is key. This is why as DPE we started monitoring activities from the very day IEC published the election time-table, noting whether particular events were taking place as stipulated in the timetable and the Electoral Act.

We used electoral education as opposed to voter education because voter education is more about the voting day, what to expect and how to mark the ballot paper, which are things that happen during the day of elections. But electoral education covers most of the other usually ignored issues which are election related.

PE: Actually, what is voter education – and what are its aims?

LM: Ok, let’s use electoral education for this one. Voter education is teaching of voters to prepare themselves for voting. It is required by the law that before becoming voters, citizens should register, which will give them the right to vote on voting day. Lastly, people still need to be mobilised to stand up and go to vote.

PE: Is there a difference between voter education and civic education, and if so what is it?

LM: There is a difference. As much as voter education forms part

of civic education they are totally different. Civic education is broader, provides more knowledge on the rights of citizens while voter education its more about voting and nothing else.

In civic education and after understanding and seeing how powerful they are people become more informed about who to vote for and why. They vote with more awareness about their needs.

PE: Is voter education sufficient for democracy?

LM: No, democracy needs more public participation before and after elections because elections can be free, fair and credible but the government could be something else, practicing things which are not democratic.

So, this is why we need public participation throughout to observe whether the government is in order or not. For example, not observing the human rights, the rule of law, not being accountable and transparent as part of the qualities of democratic governance.

PE: Why do you have to educate voters?

 LM: We need to mobilise people to go and vote and also to sensitise the new voters who will be the first time voters.

PE: In what ways, other than voting, can people participate in the political process and what are the strengths and weaknesses of each kind of activity?

LM: People should have an interest in what the two Houses of parliament are doing. That will bring them close to what they are voting for and why they have to be part of politics through political processes.

So, the power is in the political space, to influence the change one has to participate in structures which are holding power otherwise to be considered part of the people who can make any change is not easy. It does not mean all the people have to be activists of political parties or be members of such formations but one has to be part of the formation which can influence the policy.

Sometimes the environment is not conductive for people to participate, especially the weaker ones, but one has to fight for the space. Youth, women and people with disabilities are the groups which are more vulnerable.

PE: Why don’t more people vote in the country, and what factors keep them out of the electoral process?

LM: This is very serious; it has been addressed in the other question. Most people are disappointed and decided not to vote after experiencing dishonesty from those they elected into power. The other thing is political infighting, people choose to leave toxic environments.

PE: What does political efficacy mean to you in relation to voter education?

LM: This is another challenge which needs to be addressed because political parties have membership which is good but the animosity they have towards other stakeholders in the elections process is a serious challenge. For instance, you can have civil society organisations and IEC helping the political parties mobilise their members to go and vote for them but the same political parties do not appreciate that.

PE: Do you personally feel your voter education efforts have the capacity to make political changes, why or why not?

LM: Yes, there is that capacity but we need to focus on political structures to address some misunderstandings with some of them. CSOs working during election time face the challenge from members of political parties which do not appreciate what they are doing. So the capacity both CSOs and IEC have can be seen once the main stakeholders which are political parties start appreciating.

PE: Do you think that the political parties, and the IEC, pay enough attention to voter education, why or why not?

LM: Yes, IEC pay attention to voter education and does everything which needs to be done. When it comes to political parties, honestly they don’t care what is happening down there.

For example, if you can ask about their attendance of the meetings of IEC during the elections one will find out that even the critical committees such as monitors to some political parties do not attend such meetings. One wonders how we are going to see their attention or seriousness about the elections. Look at this year’s final voters’ roll; where were they if they are committed?

PE: Now, about political parties’ conduct throughout the elections, can you say they observed set regulations throughout the whole elections process?

LM: No, if you can see how many cases are at IEC tribunal, that will tell you how political parties through their members behaved. The behaviour should stop because they can have bad influence in the electoral process. Compliance is key where people are competing in a fair manner; no one is supposed to use supported advantage over others and whatever is against the regulations should stopped.

PE: And what can you say about the media’s coverage of the elections?

LM: The media did their part but most of the beneficiaries are already the well-established parties as compared to others which are struggling, it was already disaster for them anyway. I don’t know whether it was by design or it was influenced by the market, especially in the case of the private media.

PE: In your report you mentioned that media was not objective in covering the elections, please elaborate on the matter and what your advice is to those media personnel so that they do better in future?

LM: This one LCN can respond better.

PE: The media in Lesotho is said to be highly polarised, with politicians masquerading as journalists, practitioners who blatantly slaughter the profession’s expected ethical conduct, how best can the sector address this challenge?

LM: Like other sectors the media also has its way of doing things so they should not allow themselves to be influenced by the work which is happening within 90 days; they should remember that after elections they will still be there and doing the same work. They should abide by their ethics of work and nothing will tarnish their image.

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