Tackling voter apathy

Tackling voter apathy

HLOAHLOENG – Only 46 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the last election. And in 2012 only half of those on the voters’ roll did.
Voter turnout in the three previous elections, starting in 2007, has averaged just less than 50 percent. In the four elections between 1970 and 2002, the average turnout was 73 percent.
Since then that number has plunged to around average 48 percent, an indication that Basotho are increasingly shunning elections.
There are no signs that voter turnout in the June 3 election will get near the record of 82 percent achieved in 1970.

It will be no mean achievement if it is even slightly higher than 2015.
For years, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has fretted over the voter apathy but has never managed to find ways to get more people excited about exercising their democratic right to vote.

Yet this year it has set itself a voter turnout target of 85 percent. The key to achieving that lofty target lies in educating people about the importance of voting.
But the IEC knows that given the pressure of organising a national election in just three months it has little time to conduct a far-reaching voter education campaign.
So it has hired the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) to help with the voter education.
The LCN has roped in the Development for Peace Education (DPE), an advocacy group, to help.

The challenge for the DPE is how to reach as many voters as possible in a few weeks. Call village meetings and most people will not attend.
To knock on doors you need financial and human resources. The DPE lacks both but is innovative.

Last Saturday the DPE hosted a successful Horse Racing event in Hloahloeng Ha-Nkau to launch the constituency electoral education campaign.
Before the construction of two bridges crossing Senqu and Senqunyane rivers some five years ago Hloahloeng, the constituency of the Speaker of Parliament Ntlhoi Motsamai, was one of Lesotho’s most hard to reach areas.

Cash prizes ranging between M150 and M400 were awarded to horses such as Lerato le felile, U ka nketsang, Ngoan’a setsoha le pelo ea maobane, Salemina and Mookameli.
DPE sponsored the race to the tune of M5000.  Thirty horses participated in the race.

They came from villages around Hloahloeng, like including ’Maletsunyane, Qabane and Kuebunyane. Some came from as far as Quthing and Semonkong.
The races were punctuated with drama by DPE’s community theatre group to communicate the ‘Be part of 85 percent voter turnout June 3’ campaign.
Tokelo Beketsane, a prize winner, said he is interested in horse racing for both recreational and economic purposes.

He said the event had been successful because DPE had used horse racing, a sport liked by many people in the area.
Lebohang Ranoha, from Seforong, said the sport is a source of income for unemployed people like him. He said he has been involved in the sport since 1990 and the highest prize he ever won is M6000.
Convincing the youth to vote is still a challenge for the DPE’s electoral education campaigns.
A group of boys at the event said they are not going to vote beacause “our parents have been complaining about lack of services around here. We are still complaining about the same thing”.

“We want smart things such as electricity,” one said.
However, 20-year-old Tšepo Letlisa from Seberatlane said after watching the drama performances he realised the need to vote. He said he only came to the event to learn prospects his horses in future races.

Letlisa said he is going to vote for a party that promises to construct a road from Pitsaneng to Ha-Mantša where the community council is located.
Another inspiring jockey was Renang Nchai from Hloahloeng, whose horse Rutla Letekatse, competed with 13 others in a 400 metres race.

DPE’s Community Animator for Hloahloeng, ’Mamoliehi Makhetha, who is also the team leader for the constituency electoral education team, said there is voter fatigue because MPs tend to lose contact with their constituencies soon after elections.

Makhetha said one of the main grievances of the communities is the lack of roads connecting about 13 villages to Kuebunyane Health Centre.
She said the situation is often worse in times of bad weather conditions, when the Flying Doctors’ Services are hampered from faring patients from the health centre to Machabeng Hospital in Qacha’s Nek as well as to Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital in Maseru.

“However, the electorate always promise us that they are going to participate in the election and vote,’’ she said.
One such voter who promised to vote is Thabang Mpota of Hloahloeng Ha-Nkau.

Mpota said his last permanent job was in 2003 when he was employed as a mechanic in Maseru.
“Since that time, I have been able to land casual jobs as a driver, until my last one in 2012 with the construction company that built the road between Semonkong and Qacha’s Nek,” Mpota said.

He said he is going to vote for a party that will prioritise job creation. Mpota is also one of a few people in his village who can claim to have a decent life.
Besides his modest roundavel and a Polata (flat-roofed house), he is one of the only five people out of 90 in the village who has a toilet.
“The rest of them still use bushes because they cannot afford to raise money to build a toilet,” he said.

DPE is using crowd-pulling activities in seven of the 15 constituencies assigned to it by the IEC as its strategy to reinforce it’s the pre-election electoral education campaign.
The first event was a football match between Majantja and Bantu in Mohale’s Hoek on April 26. The match attracted a large crowd comprising soccer fans from Mohale’s Hoek town as well as political party followers and candidates from the constituencies of Mafeteng, Thabana-Morena as well as Likhoele.

’Mamonehela Masupha

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