The Lesotho Catholic Bishop’s Conference together with the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) have commended the people of Lesotho for the peaceful manner in which they voted in a snap election called by the country's out-going Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, who last week conceded defeat.
“Overall the elections were peaceful and well organised. Though there is room to improve on some challenges identified above. As Church we applaud this and that it must lead to a long lasting process of how Basotho people relate to each other,” said the Bishops in a “2017 Kingdom of Lesotho National Assembly Elections Preliminary Report.”
Tom Thabane of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party is set to bounce back as Prime Minister. In 2014, Thabane fled Lesotho for South Africa claiming an army plot to assassinate him.
In their report, the Bishops appeal to the people of Lesotho to embrace peace, reconciliation and reforms.
“The Kingdom of Lesotho needs deep soul-searching as a nation with regards to peace, reconciliation and dialogue. It seems there is a lot of rivalry, anger, revenge and hatred amongst the Basotho, who should really enjoy peace, nation building, development and the joy of God’s love. The new government must facilitate and model a structure of national dialogue based on truth and reconciliation,” the Bishops said in their report.
On 7 September 2014, Pope Francis during the Angelus in St. Peter’ Square made a passionate plea for peace in Lesotho.
“I condemn all acts of violence and ask that the Lord will restore to the Kingdom of Lesotho peace that is rooted in justice and fraternity,” the Holy Father said at the time.
Lesotho’s military and the country’s police have a history of divided loyalty leading to political instability.
Regional leaders and local Church officials weary of the army’s involvement in the political affairs of Lesotho have often appealed to politicians to desist from abusing state institutions for their own political interests. The Catholic Bishops’ post-election report underscores this concern when the criticise the presence of armed military personnel at polling stations.
“Despite all the above mentioned best practices, there were some challenges observed during the polling process. These included the presence of the military around some polling stations. They ranged between 4 to 6 in full new uniforms and holding new arms. This was intimidating to some voters. Even the IEC clearly announced on the radio that the military had no role to play in the voting process,” the Bishops said in the report. They add, “Strictly soldiers have no role to play in elections. They should not be found in and around the voting stations at all! -except in cases where they transport election materials in the mountain areas,” The Bishops said.
It remains to be seen if the new government can forge a process that that brings about healing to a divided nation. Last week, Southern Africa’s political commentators were amazed by remarks attributed to Lesotho’s outgoing deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing. The Lesotho Times reported the out-going deputy premier as saying the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) needed to be protected from the Prime-Minister elect (Tom Thabane) for their role in propping up the out-going government.
Hopes are now pinned on the regional block, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to facilitate much-needed reforms that would usher in inclusive policies; respect of the country’s institutions and generally halt endemic political instability.
In theory and with political will from all concerned, this should be something do-able. Lesotho is a small Southern Africa mountain kingdom of just 2 million people. South Africa surrounds it. The country gained independence from Britain in 1966. The King, Letsie III, is head of a constitutional monarchy. His duties as monarch are ceremonial.
(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)
(Find below the full report of the Bishops)
Lesotho Catholic Bishop’s Conference & IMBISA Issues a Report on Lesotho
2017 KINGDOM OF LESOTHO NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS PRELIMINARY REPORT
This is a report on the Lesotho National Assembly elections held on the 3rd of June 201. The Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference has mandated the Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) to work in collaboration with Inter-Regional Meeting of Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) to observe the 2017 elections. Having been accredited by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), CCJP deployed approximately 120 observers in about 50 constituencies. Some were stationery while some were mobile observers.
The report therefore focuses on what transpired on the day of voting. This will be based on three main situational aspects, that is:
Before Poll Opening;
During Voting and
2.0 Before Poll Opening
Generally the polling stations opened exactly at 07:00 hours or slightly a few minutes later in the morning. The polling stations were correctly identified with both name and number appearing on the gate or entrance to the station. All voting material were in place before the start of the voting. These included the voters roll, ballots, candidate lists and pens. Braille voting material for the blind were at most polling stations. The ballot boxes were empty prior to voting.
3.0 During Voting
During voting the voters would spent on average 3 to 4 minutes before leaving the voting room. Generally voting went on smoothly. The IEC needs to be applauded for their excellent facilitation and adherence to all the requirements of the voting procedure, in particular:
The officials were professional, showing that they were trained well to manage the election process. The station managers were present in all the polling rooms responsible for supervising all the processes inside the polling room. Generally they were very cooperative and provided all the information requested by the observers and they were very attentive throughout the whole process with no signs of tiring. The IEC Staff were also visible due to the regalia they were putting on i.e. T-shirts and hats. It made the observers and voters to easily identify them. Their voices were also clear in terms of announcing/calling out the names of voters to all the people who were present in the room i.e. party agents, observers and other IEC officials. It was observed that each official knew his/her role. This was consistent from one polling station to the other.
In most of the station, every incoming voter, before getting his or her ballot, got a sufficient explanation of the process. Therefore, only a few voters (e.g. elderly) needed assistance.
There were very few spoiled ballot papers, which can be attributed to people becoming used to voting in short space of times in Lesotho. So voters need not much assistance.
In cases where voting happened at school premises, the voting rooms were alphabetically allocated, and clearly marked on the door so that a voter would get into the correct voting room easily. Voters could not get lost, in terms of which room to go to cast his or her vote. It was observed that voter names were being checked and marked off before ballots were issued to them. This was done inclusive of the party agents and the IEC officials. It was noticed that each voting officer checked each voter’s hand for ink stains prior to issuing a ballot paper.
In some cases the layout of the voting booths was secret. Though this needs much more improvement. Those voters who needed assistance were being assisted. It was noticed that the elderly were being given preference to vote and that their vote was secret. Those who were physically challenged had assistance offered promptly by the IEC officials.
Those voters who did not have the registration cards but had their names appearing on the voters roll were allowed to vote, provided they produced alternative forms of passport, driving license or National Identity Card. In the absence of any of these documents; the Chief or his/her representative and or those present in the voting station witnessed the voter.
Voters were casting their ballots peacefully without any noticeable form of coercion, intimidation, bribery or interference. Political party agents were in each voting room. These ranged in number because out all the contesting 30 political parties, some were not contesting in other constituencies. This brings the number of party agents to an average of 12 per voting station.
The police were present in most polling stations. They were aided by assistant police officers who were trained cadres from amongst civilians.
Media representatives were seen at some polling stations. Additionally, the Catholic Church provided a phone-in platform in collaboration with Radio Maria. All the information was provided live by the observers who were on the ground. Furthermore, they created a whatsapp platform to continually communicate and share information with everyone.
Generally the voting was done under peaceful conditions, with no incidences of violence observed.
Most if not all formal retailers, shops, markets. Bottle stores and other public places were closed during the voting period.
Despite all the above mentioned best practices, there were some challenges observed during the polling process. These included the presence of the military around some polling stations. They ranged between 4 to 6 in full new uniforms and holding new arms. This was intimidating to some voters. Even the IEC clearly announced on radio that the military had no role to play in the voting process.
Another observed challenge was the lack of adequate and spacious voting rooms at Ratjomose polling station, which was someone’s house. Everyone was squashed in small stuffy rooms, were one could hardly breathe. The smell of gas and kerosene was chocking. The ballot boxes were always not easily noticeable.
Most of the polling stations had no visible signs or indications on the road to show or indicate where the polling stations were. One could easily miss a polling station if was not directed.
Some voting stations were difficult to reach and or enter for physically challenged people, especially those using the wheelchair. The challenges included gaps not bridged for wheelchairs, steps in front of the rooms.
It seems the way the voting booths were installed compromised the voting secrecy. One could easily see the way someone was voting. It was also observed that the voting booth decks were too high for those physically challenged and were on wheel chairs.
It was observed that there was no IEC logo on ballot papers. This may present some problems in event that someone lost the election.
Some voters were visibly drunk or smelling beer and were a bit of some nuisance in some polling stations. Some could be seen drinking whilst in their cars waiting to cast their vote or just milling around the polling station after voting.
Some voting rooms had very long queues. This was caused by the alphabetical allocations done by IEC. Some voters complained about this and this concerned especially surnames starting with the letter M or N were all put in one voting room.
5.0 Polling Closing
The polling ended well and all those who wished to cast their vote managed to do so before the polls closed. Ballots were immediately sealed with all officials present. Then counting was done.
As Church we recommend that there is need for real peace and reconciliation among the political elite in Lesotho, so that they must preserve the heritage of the country the people, their values of life, costumes and gains from their ancestress.
The Kingdom of Lesotho need deep soul searching as a nation with regards to peace, reconciliation and dialogue. It seems there is a lot of rivalry, anger, revenge and hatred amongst the Basotho, who should really enjoy peace, nation building, development and the joy of God’s love.
The new government must facilitate and model a structure of national dialogue based on truth and reconciliation.
Strictly soldiers have no role to play in elections. They should not be found in and around the voting stations at all!!except in cases where they transport elections materials in the mountain areas
Visible signs should put on the main road to show where polling stations are.
The level and standard of professionalism and how the IEC conducted the elections should be maintained in Lesotho. Congratulations!
The IEC should consider basic human rights needs to all elections officials such as water, decent sanitary facilities, food etc
The electoral law should clearly mention specific buildings or facilities which qualify to be set as voting station e.g. primary schools, local government facilities etc.
IEC should consider the right time of the year to hold the plebiscite, for instance during winter it may deter others to vote because it is too cold.
Media rooms should be created at polling stations such that candidates especially political leaders who will be interviewed will not disrupt the smooth flow or process of voting. Their interview on TV or Radio was seen as campaigning as well.
Overall the elections were peaceful and well organized. Though there is room to improve on some challenges identified above. As Church we applaud this and that it must lead to a long lasting process of how as Basotho people relate with each other.
We wait for the next phase of the election process pronouncement of final results. There is a future for this country. It is not enough to talk about principles, state intentions, and point out injustice; these words will lack real weight or meaning unless they are accompanied by a greater awareness of personal responsibility and through effective action by all. It is too easy to throw back on others the responsibility for injustice, if one does not realize how each one of us is involved in it. This is why personal conversion is needed first. The Christian's hope for a better society comes primarily from the fact that we know that the Lord Jesus Christ is working with us in the world. (Pope Paul VI, Octogesima Adveniens. A Call to Action, No. 48).
The wining parties become the government until they are voted out. The government does not belong to the political party, neither the party belongs to the government. It is a party led government that belongs to all citizens. It is not acceptable for a ruling party to be vengeful against citizens that would not have voted them into power. A good leader treats all citizens with respect and dignity and offers all citizens equal opportunities as much as possible (CCJP 2007). Jesus speaks to all of us and says “so always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the law and the prophets” (Mathew 7: 12).
Those who will form government must ensure that quick reforms processes are rolled out; that they rejuvenate the Lesotho’s governance structures and they restore respect for human rights of all citizens and maintain the rule of law.
May God of peace and love bless Lesotho and Basotho
For More information contact:
Booi Mohapi (Executive Secretary of Justice & Peace Lesotho)