Parties coerced to sign electoral pledge

 

  • Leaders demand choice of media to cover their rallies
  • That state resources should not be utilized during campaigns

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Disgruntled representatives of the country’s political parties were yesterday coerced to append signatures to the Electoral Code of Conduct notwithstanding repeated calls to refute portions of the document. The objective of this code, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), is to promote conditions conducive to the conduct of free and fair elections and a climate of democratic tolerance, in which political parties’ activities may take place without fear or coercion, intimidation or reprisals.

It further provides for all political parties and other persons bound by its contents to endeavour to promote its object in order to enable free elections campaigning and open public debate in all parts of Lesotho throughout the elections period. IEC chairperson Mphasa Mokhochane said at the signing of the code at a Maseru hotel that all political parties and candidates are required to subscribe to the Code of Conduct before they can contest an election.

The signing ceremony took place 90 days before the nation goes to the polls to elect a political party of their choice to advance its interests. However, the majority of political parties represented expressed reluctance to sign the pledge to abide by the code, arguing that signing meant committing to something they do not agree with – which they might violate, possibly leading to their parties being penalised.

Some of the concerns aired included discomfort with some sections of the Code that refer to attendance of the media at political rallies, the use of state resources for campaigning, amendments to the Electoral Act, party campaign funding and as well as the IEC’s reported financial status. The disgruntled parties called for these issues to be addressed before they can commit to the code.

Four political parties: Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Democratic Party of Lesotho (DPL), Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) and Prayer Shawl and Light (PSL) refused to sign the pledge to the code. The leader of the DPL, Limpho Tau, said his party won’t be contesting the forthcoming elections, while LCD representative and party deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi, left the meeting just before the signing. SR also left before the signing and its representative stated that they will only sign on Tuesday after the promised meeting.

Leader of Prayer Shawl and Light, ’Masechaba Ntšihlele said she won’t sign anything unless it speaks about theocracy. Up to 61 parties in all signed the pledge, the majority of whom were still dissatisfied with the content of the code and committed to abide by the provisions of the Electoral Code of Conduct during the forthcoming elections. Leader of Basotho Economic Enrichment (BEE), Litaba Mohatle, noted that signing the Electoral Code of Conduct will be unfair while many critical issues to the electoral process remained unclear. He cited the example of the proposed use of ID cards for voting as contained in the botched Omnibus Bill and already propagated amongst the voters.

He said now that the Bill has not been passed by parliament, there is still a possibility that people will vote numerous times as the current voter cards have numerous inadequacies such as blurred pictures for identification. He further noted that they are not happy to sign the code before the tabled issues are addressed. Among the things he is not happy about enclosed in the electoral code is its Section 4, which focuses on the media.

The code of conduct directs political leaders to respect the role of media before, during and after elections, further stating that the media should be allowed to attend and publish political meetings, marches, demonstrates and rallies. The code further states that political leaders should take all reasonable steps to ensure that journalists are not subjected to harassment, intimidation, hazard, threats or physical assault by any of their representatives or supporters.

Mohatle says they should be given the right to choose who they want to associate with because some journalists have specific political affiliations and might attend their rallies or meetings just to sabotage them. Also of concern by political parties is the rumoured financial challenges that IEC is alleged to be facing, coupled with unclear status of parties’ campaign funding. The unhappy parties also want IEC to include in the code that state resources should not be utilised in any way for campaigning during the 90 days run-up to elections.

They also want the commission to table before them how it plans to handle political parties that may violate the code of conduct articulating that signing an agreement that might not even be obeyed is a waste of time. They said sanctions, places to report parties that violate the code of conduct should be published before the signing. They pointed to the intent of the code, which is to promote free political campaign and open public debate, intolerance of bribery, vote–buying and any political patronage. This, they said, is not adequately covered by the code in its current form.

Mokhochane failed to address these concerns, noting that the Thursday meeting was solely meant for the signing of the code and not to address any other business. He promised the political parties that they will meet on Tuesday next week and address their grievances and possibly map a way forward. However, the chairman reminded those gathered that political parties should stop presenting gifts and donations to the electorate during the 90 days of campaign as this will be construed as vote buying – stating that they will resume with their gifting after the IEC has announced the outcome of electoral process. These developments come after King Letsie III this week announced October 7 as elections day.

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