MASERU — All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane says opposition parties should boycott the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) because it has “dismally failed to run elections”.
Thabane told a press conference this week that the IEC could not be trusted anymore because it had “gone to bed” with the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party.
He accused the commission of bungling the recent by-elections in Sebapala, Hololo and Mpharane which the LCD won with a landslide.
Thabane also accused the commission of tampering with the results in favour of the ruling party.
“I therefore publicly declare that my confidence in the IEC has waned,” said an irate Thabane.
To push for reforms, Thabane suggested that opposition parties should withdraw their representatives from IEC committees.
“Let us declare war against the IEC by keeping away from its committees as the opposition,” he said.
Opposition representatives are involved in the IEC’s party delegates as well as logistics and security committees.
If the boycott strategy fails, Thabane said, the opposition parties must pressure the government to dissolve the IEC and replace it with a “more transparent and independent electoral body”.
Thabane boycotted the IEC’s post-election meeting on Tuesday morning.
Instead he chose to attack the commission at a press conference in the afternoon on Tuesday.
The commission has lost integrity “because the IEC keeps in its computers predetermined results”, Thabane claimed.
He said since its establishment in 1998 the electoral commission has presided over disputed election results.
“In 1955 elections were held by colonial masters. The results came out alright despite hiccups here and there,” Thabane said.
“In the 1965 and 1993 elections a chief electoral officer was used and once more the results were undisputed although there were slight problems.
“But then came into the picture a permanent body called the IEC in 1998, the result of which were election results which led to riots.
“Despite people’s misgivings I supported the IEC.”
In the May 22 by-elections, Thabane alleged, the IEC “turned a blind eye” to the ABC’s allegations that a few days before the elections Forestry Minister Ralechate ‘Mokose had offered temporary jobs to some people in Mpharane in exchange for votes.
Thabane’s allegations about ‘Mokose have not been independently verified.
On Wednesday, Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Metsing Lekhanya threw his weight behind Thabane’s call for opposition parties to boycott the IEC.
“The IEC is far from being independent,” Lekhanya said.
“They are paid by the government and therefore cannot be objective.”
Lekhanya said Thabane was now calling for the boycott because he was now in opposition and was beginning to “feel the pain”.
Thabane was a senior LCD member before he broke away to form the ABC in 2006.
Lekhanya said Thabane was one of the people who defended the IEC when he was in government.
“Now that he is part of the opposition at least he can relate to how we felt all those years
“We are very hurt and the pain might lead us to resort to undemocratic means to get what we want because democratic means seem to be failing us.”
The former military ruler did not elaborate on what he meant by “undemocratic means”.
However, there are dissenting voices in the opposition movement over Thabane’s call.
Lekhetho Rakuoane, the leader of the Popular Front for Democracy, said boycotting the IEC would not help the opposition parties.
“It will be detrimental to all,” Rakuoane said. “Why did we go to the by-elections?”
“Should we stop all fundamental issues simply because we are not happy about the May 22 by-elections?” he added.
“In politics we should make decisions based on concrete facts, not emotions.”
Rakuoane said boycotting the IEC would be “a disaster because we will end up with people not participating in elections. I doubt we want that to happen.”
Responding to Thabane’s attacks, IEC spokesperson Tuoe Hants’i said he was worried that the ABC leader had continued to raise issues in the media instead of approaching the commission.
“It shocks us that they always run to the media about issues they have not bothered to discuss with us,” Hants’i said.
“Thabane shunned our stakeholders’ meeting on Tuesday on purpose. We were of the impression that he had other commitments.”
Hants’i it was not fair for opposition leaders to make serious accusations against the IEC without facts to substantiate their claims.
“The accusatory statements they make contribute immensely to voter apathy and that’s an undisputed fact,” Hants’i said.
“Pulling their representatives from IEC committees will not help matters in any way.
“As the IEC we urge political leaders to learn to discuss issues in relevant forums.”
,” Lekhanya said.