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Catholic jubilee derails elections

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has postponed local government elections for the fifth time.
The IEC said it had moved the polls from September 17 to October 1 following a request from the Maseru Roman Catholic diocese which had scheduled its jubilee celebrations for September 17.
IEC chairperson Limakatso Mokhothu said Archbishop Tlali Lerotholi had told her that the September 17 date would clash with the jubilee celebrations.
“The commission felt compelled to hold elections on the 1st October to avoid a situation where the Catholics, other Christians and other religions, would have to make a choice between voting and celebrating that important day in the Christian family,” Mokhothu said in the letter she sent to political parties announcing the postponement.
“We should all encourage harmony between those who work for the earthly kingdom and those who work for the heavenly kingdom,” she added.
The Roman Catholic Church is the biggest religious denomination in Lesotho.
Mokhothu said Archbishop Lerotholi had indicated that invitation letters to the Catholic officials from other countries were sent a long time ago and it would not be possible for the diocese to postpone the celebrations.
But opposition leaders who spoke to the Sunday Express yesterday were not amused by the postponement.
They alleged that the IEC was postponing the elections to give time to the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party to put its house in order.
The Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) leader, Kelebone Maope, said although there
was no concrete evidence that the IEC takes orders from the LCD, there are “sound reasons to believe that the postponement was done to favour the ruling party”.
“It is common knowledge that there are squabbles within the LCD and each faction does not feel comfortable with the holding of elections before it can make sure that it has entrenched itself throughout the party structures,” Maope said.
“It is understandable that each of the warring LCD factions will work hard to make sure that we do not go to elections until it feels safe.” Maope said he doubted “the genuineness of the IEC’s decision to postpone the elections as a result of the Catholic jubilee”.
“There are many celebrations in October whose preparation can equally hamper the holding of the elections and I don’t think the IEC would like to postpone elections because of them,” he said.
“I doubt if we will ever hold local government elections this year.”
Lesotho Workers’ Party deputy leader, Sello Maphalla, said “the series of election postponements by the IEC is worrisome”.
“They have found a new reason in the highly respected authority, the church, to impose yet another election postponement on us,” Maphalla said.
“Instead of putting it bluntly that they can’t hold elections because they are not prepared they hide behind God’s church,” he said.
The All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, Thomas Thabane, said what was “worrying is that the IEC is continually failing to register voters in our villages”.
“They have every right to postpone elections if in their view there will not be any success but I will object when the IEC does not register voters and cite the church as the reason for not holding elections,” Thabane said.
This is the fifth time that the IEC has postponed the elections. In April last year the IEC postponed the polls for a year to give parliament time to amend the electoral law and allow the IEC to come up with new electoral divisions.
The idea was that the elections will be held in April this year.
But earlier this year the IEC told political parties that it was impossible to have elections in April because it had not finished drawing electoral divisions in some urban areas.
The commission then suggested pushing the polls to May. Later the commission said it had settled for June 6 as the polling day.
But in May it changed again and announced that the elections were going to be held on September 17.
However, there were still murmurs of disgruntlement from opposition parties who felt it would still be difficult for the IEC to hold elections given the slow pace of the voter registration process.
The ABC, Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho National Party and the Basotho Batho Democratic Party last week threatened to boycott the elections saying the IEC had failed to register voters.

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