How free and fair were the local elections?

How free and fair were the local elections?

Central to elections in any democratic country, whether local or national, is the conducive political environment for the conduct of such elections. Similarly, the governance of those elections is equally crucial to ensure their freeness, fairness and credibility.
This means that you cannot have elections in an environment where some sections of society are in fear and cannot express themselves freely. You cannot have elections where political leaders are not free or where journalists are on the run.

You cannot have elections with poor registration, where the Elections Management Body (EMB) is in poor relations with political parties. The management of elections must follow internationally acceptable standards.

International Standards
Good elections that are in line with international standards are governed by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Universal Declaration of Principles of International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for international elections.

On the African continent, elections are governed by the African Union (AU) Declaration on the Principles governing Democratic Elections in Africa, Guidelines for AU Electoral Observation and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
Finally, in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, SADC principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, Electoral Commission Forum (ECF), ECF principles and Guidelines on the Independence of Elections Management bodies among many others.

The current catch-phrase has been free, fair and credible elections. Many international instruments depict UDHR in its article 21 which provides that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of a government; this will shall be in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote”.

During the pre-election period, the environment must be free and permit freedom of movement, freedom of speech for media, candidates and voters in order to ensure free elections. To ensure fair elections, there must be a transparent electoral process.
This includes a clean registration and a system that grants no special privileges to any political party or a social group. There must be no exclusion from the electoral register of any voter.

This election must be run by an established independent and impartial election commission. After polling, there must be legal possibilities of lodging complaints that must be dealt with expeditiously. For elections to be free and fair they must adhere to these standards.

Political Environment
In order to test the freeness, fairness and credibility of the recent Lesotho local government elections, we must examine the current political environment.
It is this environment which will serve as a guide as to whether the environment was conducive for the holding or not of the elections.
A 90-day election period was declared from 1st July 2017 to 30th September 2017. This is a period of free election campaigns and also a period where vote buying by political parties is prohibited by law.

However, it was during this period, whereby some individuals went on to distribute food parcels and distribute bricks for houses in both Berea and Mokema among other prohibited activities during this period.
Nearly eight (8) days after the declaration of the 90 day period, former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing was summoned to report before the DCEO to answer allegations of corruption.

This was despite the fact that the case had been struck off the roll over three years ago. Other leaders of the opposition such as Honourable Lekhetho Rakuoane who was a member of the former seven parties coalition government was also summoned before the DCEO.
Honourable Selibe Mochoboroane who now leads the Movement for Economic Change party was also summoned.

This action created a perception that the government was persecuting opposition leaders.
Similarly on August 24, 2017, the former driver of Honourable Mokhosi, one Mr Zele Mphesheane, was arrested and kept in detention until the afternoon of August 28, 2017. He says he was beaten while he was in custody.

He was then released without any charge. His beatings apparently stopped when the victim agreed to incriminate the deputy leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Tšeliso Mokhosi in the murder of police Constable Khetheng.
Mokhosi says he was beaten while he was in police custody. From his own account, he was to implicate his leader, Metsing, in the killing of Khetheng. Severe beatings only stopped when he agreed to implicate Metsing.

Metsing says on the night of 29th August he got a tip-off that he was going to be arrested, tortured and killed in detention. Both Metsing and Mokhothu have since fled the country claiming their lives were in danger.
On September 5, 2017, three senior army officers were killed at Ratjomose barracks in Maseru. The killing sent shock waves across the country and the region.

These deaths necessitated the government to request a SADC Ministerial fact-finding Mission.
The government also requested military intervention which is yet to be approved by a SADC Summit in November 2017. This impending military intervention obliterated any likelihood of conducting elections in a conducive environment.

The government on numerous occasions in different platforms informed the nation that SADC will send between 300-400 forces to disarm rogue members of the LDF.  This narrative was intended to instil fear not only in the LDF but the nation and the business community as a whole and thus poisoned the electoral environment further.

Derelict Database
For any elections to be declared free, fair and credible, they must meet International standards on the issue of registration. The IEC database is currently not reliable because voters have three different voters’ cards.
That is, the 1998 cards, the 2002 cards and the current cards. This means that cleaning of data and removal of deceased voters cannot be effected efficiently because they each require different computer packages compatible with each system.

Normally after every five (5) years a new registration should ensue. It is now almost six years since a new registration was done.
Under this situation no computer application such as the Automated Fingerprinted Identification System (AFIS) can be able to clean the current database.
This database has created more challenges mostly when it comes to registration of voters and their transfers.
The Ace-project, states that, “Voter registration establishes the eligibility of individuals to vote”. This is done where the database is clean and is continuously updated.

The other major challenge of this database stemmed from the legislation itself, mostly section 4 (1) (b) of the National Assembly Electoral Act, 2011 where it states that “ A person who qualifies as an elector in section 5, must register as an elector in that constituency, of which he or she ordinarily originates, resides or works”.

The section also says that the person must have stayed in that area for not less than 60 days. But unfortunately this section does not say how these qualifications must be tested more especially where the IEC has institutinalised a system of generic addresses.
This system has made it close to impossible to trace, identify and verify voters from each polling station.
The current registration system of providing voters with generic addresses is very suspect and prone to misuse. This practice is not only wrong but does not provide free and fair elections.

In its ruling the Electoral Court in South Africa, Johannesburg, on 10th March 2016 in a similar case of generic address, stated that, “A generic address, whether that of an informal settlement, such as Crossroads in Cape Town or Bester’s Camp in Durban, or that of an upmarket suburb, such as Constantia in Cape Town or Morningside in Durban, is simply insufficient for this purpose”.’

The IEC must ensure that voters are accurately placed within the correct voting areas. A local newspaper, “The Informative” in its editorial declared the election had been marred by serious flaws. It is these irregularities that have discredited this election.

Freedom of Speech
Furthermore, we saw the illegal closure of Mo-Afrika FM on Friday, August 11, 2017, by the government without following the due process. The station was back on air after the High Court issued an order to do so.

On September 13, 2017, the government closed the station once again. The High Court ordered the reconnection of the station for the second time running in one month. A local senior journalist, Nthakoana Ngatane, was also threatened and had to flee the country.

Conclusion
It is very clear that the above elections failed to meet international standards of free, fair and credible elections. An election needs a conducive environment, which did not prevail at the time the local government elections were held.
Political leaders had to flee the country for their safety. The death of three army officers and the threat of impending military intervention obliterated a conducive environment for peaceful elections.

The freedom of speech was curtailed as some media houses were gagged. Prominent journalists like Nthakoana Ngatane had to flee their country while the MoAfrika FM editor was harassed by the government.
The IEC failed to meet the above international standards. Judging from the use of a derelict database, it was inevitable that the registration was going to be poor. Relations between parties were poisoned by a heavily politicized institution.

The IEC could not even manage donations for political parties as mandated by electoral law. In fact, the IEC even failed to ensure that parties adhere to a code of conduct.  The whole election was a manifestation of a broken electoral management system and a highly politicized and partisan electoral commission.

Dr Fako Likoti

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