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Commonwealth hails Lesotho poll

Staff Reporter MASERU — The Commonwealth Observer Group has hailed Lesotho’s May 26 poll as transparent and credible despite shortcomings which did however “not affect the election process and results”. “The overall conclusion of the Commonwealth Observer Group is that while several matters identified in this report need attention, none of these materially affected the credibility and transparency of the electoral process,” says the group in its final report on the election which produced Lesotho’s first coalition government. “This gives us confidence in asking political parties to accept the results and work with the hand the electorate has dealt it.” The report was compiled by the Commonwealth chairman Dr Bakili Muluzi and assisted by Orin Gordon, Med Kaggwa, Aminath Majdha, Aloisious Nthenda, Dr Rajen Prassad and Rina Ray.

It says the election was also conducted in a dignified manner and in accordance with the Constitution as well as the National Assembly Electoral Act (2011) of Lesotho. However, the report is quick to note that the compromising of voter privacy, a dirty voter register and the single ballot system were matters of concern. Procedures followed by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in polling stations “potentially compromise the secrecy of the ballot”, the report says. “This occurs because of the final step in the current process that requires the voter to present his ballot for the counterfoil to be removed before it is placed in the ballot box. We see little reason for this step,” reads the report. “In returning to the polling station staff member for tearing the final counterfoil the system has introduced the risk of another person being able to view a person’s vote.” That risk, the report says, was even greater because it was possible to see through the ballot paper because felt tip pen was used. The report recommends that the situation should be remedied as a matter of urgency.

The report also raises a dirty voters’ roll as a matter of serious concern adding “a good election starts with a reliable voter register”.

“The integrity of the current register remains a concern for us. If the voter register is not clean, accurate and as up-to-date as possible, electorate boundaries will be compromised,” the report says. “Despite the laudable effort of the IEC to produce a clean and reliable register, more work needs to be done to improve it prior to the next elections.” Technologies are now available in Lesotho to compile a modern register which would include biometric data, the report says adding “we believe priority should be given to this task as it is our firm belief that it will enhance the credibility of elections and give voters greater confidence”. On the single ballot system, the report states that voters were only given one ballot paper for the constituency MP and that it was assumed “that this also represents their choice of a party that should govern”. “The merits of that may be debated as the system matures and as Lesotho gains greater experience of the Mixed Member Proportion environment,” the report says.

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