By Majirata Latela
The 2022 elections are only 22 months away, and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is worried that it might not have enough time to prepare for credible National Assembly elections due to the protracted delay of new commissioners to assume office.
The erstwhile IEC Commissioners, Mahapela Lehohla, ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Makase Nyaphisi’s contracts expired in January 2019 and were not renewed.
Just when the new incumbents were about to assume office last year, local NGO Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) filed a lawsuit challenging their appointment and demanding the recruitment process of new IEC commissioners to be re-done with the active participation of civic groups through a public interviewing process. TRC also wanted a final order which nullified the appointment of Workplace Solutions as consultants in the whole recruitment exercise.
Thirteen months later, the Constitutional Court of Lesotho on August 11 2020, dismissed TRC’s application on the grounds that it did not have a legal standing to challenge the appointment of IEC commissioners.
TRC has responded by appealing the judgement on the grounds that the lower court had erred and misdirected itself by concluding that TRC and two other applicants do not have the requisite locus standi to challenge the regularity or otherwise of the appointment of commissioners of the Independent Electoral Commission.
In the meantime, the IEC is still without Commissioners and, even worse, the director of elections’ contract expired in June 2019. According to Section 144 of the National Assembly Elections Act 2011, the Commissioners are responsible for the appointment of the director of elections.
Not only that, but two deceased members of the National Assembly are yet to be replaced; the replacement of no less than 20 local government councillors is also yet to be effected.
Speaking to theReporter, IEC’s public relations officer, Tuoe Hantši, said IEC could face closure ‘very soon’ because the day to day running of the institution is currently a real problem; paying of bills to run the organisation is a problem, paying of external staff members such as the security service providers and interns is also a problem.
“We are now at a point where it is even difficult to even pay for a simple toilet paper or pay for electricity because of the absence of a director who also is the chief accounting officer of the IEC responsible for signing off procurements.
“The IEC Commissioners approve and plan all the duties that must be performed by the IEC officers; in their absence almost everything comes to a standstill,” Hantši said.
Lesotho’s Constitution – Sections 66 A, B, C, D and 67 – lists the duties of the Independent Electoral Commission. Among them is the delimitation of constituencies and, according to Hantši, the IEC has not been able to complete the demarcation of the boundaries of constituencies and updating of the voters.
“IEC officers have performed their duties in the delimitations of boundaries in accordance with Section 153 of the National Assembly Elections Act; what is left now is for the commission to complete what has been done as per the Constitution.
“Operations of the IEC are currently facing challenges. We have officers that have retired and those that passed away in the past year; their replacement and processing of the benefits have been a problem since all that is addressed by the Commission.
“We need a maximum of two years to prepare for credible National Assembly elections; imagine what would happen if we were to prepare for and hold snap elections. There are so many issues that need to be dealt with before elections and on top of that there was already an outcry over an out-dated voters roll which the commission will have to work on before the 2022 elections,” Hantši said.
He added that all procurement operations and use of funds have since stopped when the director’s contract expired in June last year. The worst case scenario is that IEC may have to stop all operations while waiting for the pending court case.
All Basotho Convention secretary general Advocate Lebohang Hlaele agrees that the IEC is faced with challenges of operations since the process of the appointment of the commission has been dragging in court. He, however, said as the leading party in government they will advise those responsible to make sure that the matter gets resolved before it is too late to prepare for the general elections.
“It is not only about the preparation for the elections; it is a well-known fact that our out-dated voters roll triggered many grievances after the last elections and that means we cannot go for elections with that roll without compromising the credibility of our elections.
“The only influence we may have over this IEC commissioner saga is to advice those in power to look if there is a law that can support the appointment of acting commissioners while we wait for the completion of the matter that is in court,” he said.
On the other hand, the leader of the Alliance of Democrats, Monyane Moleleki argues that before even talking about the 2022 elections, it is constitutionally wrong that the National Assembly is short of two members.
“We have the late MP for Makhoroana No.20, Lefu Hlomelang, who passed away in December 2019 and since then, by-elections have not been held; many months have since gone by without any preparations to replace him.
“Then there is the later member of parliament for Kolo No. 49, Leeto Putsoane, who also passed away recently; that means we are short of two members of parliament who cannot be replaced because the commission – which is the one responsible for by-elections – cannot do so” he said.
Moleleki also said he does agree that the IEC needs to prepare for the 2022 elections but it is very unlikely that the absence of the commissioners now may pose a risk to the holding of the National Assembly elections in 2022. He insisted that Lesotho is governed democratically and elections have to be held after every five years.
“Section, 1 of the Constitution clearly states that ‘Lesotho shall be a sovereign democratic Kingdom’; that in itself simply shows how important it is to hold elections. People exercise their democratic right through elections.
“Furthermore, if people attempt to use other laws to postpone the elections, then Section 2 clearly stipulates that ‘This Constitution is the supreme law of Lesotho and if any other law is inconsistent with this Constitution, that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void’; therefore, the delay of the appointment of the commissioners should not be used as an excuse when the time of elections comes,” he warned.
He reiterated that the constitution as the supreme law, should always be looked up to and must be respected at all costs, adding that currently all leaders are busy looking at non-pressing matters without realising that time is not on their side, as far as preparations for the elections is concerned.
Meanwhile, political analyst, Professor Kopano Makoa, indicates that Lesotho has over the years never had a problem when it comes to preparing for elections, despite the sometimes late appointment of IEC commissioners.
“Lesotho has successfully held two consecutive snap elections in 2015 and 2017. This shows that the country is very much capable of holding credible elections even under the most challenging circumstances.
“Further proof that we will be able to hold National assembly elections despite adversities is that we have always had commissioners coming into office with little time left before elections, and we have been able to hold clean polls.
“As for the court ruling, it has caught us all by surprise that it took the court so long to determine that applicants did not have the requisite legal standing to challenge the regularity or otherwise of the appointment of the commissioners,” he concluded.