MASERU — The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is under fire from opposition leaders who accuse the commission of postponing the local government elections without consultation.
A row erupted on Friday afternoon after IEC chairperson Limakatso Mokhothu told opposition leaders in a meeting that the commission was planning to move the local government polls which were scheduled for April to June.
Opposition parties heard about the decision for the first time on Friday and they argue that at no time did the IEC solicit their views.
Tempers flared after Mokhothu handed out an IEC document indicating that the elections will be held on June 6, a time when Lesotho’s winter temperatures would have dropped to punishing levels.
In April last year opposition parties agreed to postpone the local government elections to April this year to allow for the amendments to the Local Government Elections Act.
Of particular concern to the opposition parties was a clause in the Act that allowed the local government minister to reserve some council seats for women candidates.
The postponement was confirmed by parliament which at that time was working on amendments to the law.
On Friday opposition party leaders said the IEC’s decision to move the polls to June was arbitrary and breached the agreement that had been made by stakeholders.
The most vocal among opposition leaders was Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) leader, Vincent Malebo, who told Mokhothu that she had displayed “annoying inefficiency” that made him lose confidence in her.
The visibly annoyed Malebo said he went to the IEC offices several times to inquire how far the commission was with election preparations.
He said he failed to get clear answers every time he went there.
He said his inquiries at the local government ministry also drew a blank.
“There was no preparedness at all,” Malebo said.
“You were literally given instructions. Our instruction was that elections must not be held after April but now you bring us this paper when we are left with only two months before April and you want us to agree to postpone elections,” he said.
“Whatever explanations you give are not worth anything.”
A livid Malebo accused Mokhothu of rushing to make arbitrary decisions after considering “the government’s side only”.
When Mokhothu tried to explain the challenges the IEC encountered Malebo interrupted her: “Answer this first, why didn’t you call us and share the problems with us?”
More opposition leaders joined in the attack. The All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, Thomas Thabane, accused the IEC of taking sides with the government.
“The decision has been made by the powers that be (government),” Thabane said.
“That side has no respect,” he said referring to the government.
In the meeting Thabane sat facing Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla who sat together with Sekatle, communications minister and secretary general of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party, Mothetjoa Metsing, and Justice Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa.
“If you continue working in a manner showing that you take sides with them, you will sit there and chair a meeting that has no value,” Thabane told Mokhothu.
“No party can serve the nation more than others. We are being treated like children. We are not your children, we are adults.”
The ABC deputy chairperson, Sello Machakela, also attacked Mokhothu.
He said: “It is not true that you are independent. The IEC is not independent and you have shown us with this that you are just civil servants working for the government.”
Mokhothu’s explanations were like trying to douse flames with petrol.
Mokhothu said the IEC had quite early that the elections were likely to be delayed because the local government ministry had not submitted newly drawn council boundaries on time.
She also said the IEC had not yet received the Local Government Act and the Local Government Elections Act from Sekatle.
The IEC elections director, Mphasa Mokhochane, said Sekatle’s office had promised to give them the amended laws this week.
However, Sekatle said she sent the IEC the relevant laws a week before last.
She however admitted that it was her fault that delays occurred because she was waiting for the completion of the drawing of new councils’ boundaries, especially those of urban areas.
“It is my fault,” Sekatle said.
Mokhuthu said she decided not to give the leaders the paper early for them to form opinions on it because she feared that by the time they meet they would have misplaced it or forgot its contents.
“Had we given you this programme a long time ago you would by now have forgotten its contents,” Mokhothu said.
Leaders got angrier at this.
The Basotho Democratic National Party delegate, Pelele Letsoela, said Mokhothu’s explanation was enough for the leaders to conclude that she had been overwhelmed by her duties and “something has to be done about this”.
The meeting was postponed to next Thursday without any resolution reached.