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How free and fair were the local elections?

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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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Insight

The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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Insight

Reading, writing and the art of reflection

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There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Part One

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Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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