MASERU — The Ombudsman has ordered the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to intervene in a bitter dispute between the Basotho National Party (BNP) leadership and disgruntled members of the party.
The BNP members approached the Ombudsman after the IEC had reneged on its earlier promise to adjudicate in their dispute with the party’s executive led by former military ruler Metsing Lekhanya.
The members complained to the IEC that the BNP leadership had systematically denied some party members an opportunity to renew their membership, thus disenfranchising them during the party’s elective conferences.
This, they said in a letter they wrote to the IEC in August last year, had resulted in a leadership that was not democratically elected.
They also accused Lekhanya’s executive of influencing party elections by handpicking delegates for the BNP’s 2007 and 2008 conferences.
Delegates who were perceived to be anti-Lekhanya were barred from the conferences, they claimed.
The IEC initially undertook to convene a meeting with the warring parties to resolve the row.
However, the IEC changed its position in December when it received a letter from the BNP’s lawyer saying the leadership would not be attending the proposed meeting because the commission did not have the mandate to deal with internal party matters.
Following that letter the IEC then told the disgruntled members that it could no longer mediate in the dispute and advised them to find another arbitrator as this was an internal dispute.
Last month the dissatisfied members approached the Ombudsman’s Office demanding that it compels the electoral commission to intervene in the dispute.
The National Assembly Election Act 1992 empowers the IEC to intervene in disputes within political parties that are not run democratically.
This week the Ombudsman, Sekara Mafisa, ruled in the disgruntled group’s favour.
In his judgment, Mafisa said the IEC should intervene in the dispute before the BNP’s general conference on March 19.
“I find substance in the complaint and sustain it. IEC is endowed with the power to enforce the provisions of Section 37 of the order in appropriate cases,” Mafisa said in his report.
“I have not been made aware of the reasons for its (IEC) failure or refusal to deal with the complaint or for shifting its initial position which it is accused of having shifted.
“IEC has not disputed the accusations despite the ample opportunity I have afforded it to do so if that was its position,” he said.
“I am, in the circumstances, compelled to come to the conclusion that IEC has not responded to the complaint because it has no answer to it.
“In view of the urgency of this matter, I further recommend that, as far as it is reasonably possible, the case be finalised in good time so that the complainants know their position before BNP’s elective conference scheduled for March 19 2010, according to the complainants.”
When contacted for comment, the IEC’s acting deputy-director, Moteka Mohale, told the Sunday Express that he was hearing about the Ombudsman’s judgment for the first time.
“I am only hearing about this from you (reporter),” Mohale said.
“I cannot really say anything or tell you for sure when the commission will be in a position to respond to the media regarding this matter because I have no idea what the report contains,” he added.
“I wish I could say something but I have to read the report first and comment later.
“Unlike an institution run by one director, in the case of the IEC members of the commission will first have to convene and form an opinion.
“Only then can we issue a media report on the matter.”
Lekhanya said the Ombudsman’s ruling was not consequential.
The Ombudsman, Lekhanya said, is not a “judge and therefore has no power to tell us what to do”.
“The Ombudsman’s verdict does not hold water,” he said.
“We can only get such orders from the courts of law.
“He is not a judge. He is only but a lawyer.
“Our lawyer will communicate with the IEC and then we will take it from there.
“I also do not believe there is any urgency in the matter.”
Lekhanya added: “(Mafisa) has not even the slightest right to order the BNP to postpone its conference in favour of those people calling themselves aggrieved members of the party.”
One of the aggrieved members, Moeketsi Hanyane, the BNP’s former youth leader expelled from the party in January for alleged insubordination, said they were now waiting for the IEC to deal with the matter.
“We are content with the Ombudsman’s verdict,” Hanyane said.
“It is exactly what we were hoping for.
“Now we are waiting for the IEC to do what it is mandated to do.”