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International observers hail “peaceful” polls

Mohalenyane Phakela

VARIOUS international observer missions have commended Lesotho for conducting “peaceful and safe” elections over the weekend.

In their preliminary reports released on Saturday, SADC, the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), the Commonwealth and the Electoral Commissions Forum (ECF) all agreed that the polls were conducted in calm atmosphere.

Addressing a joint press conference with other observer missions excluding the EU, SADC mission head, Frans Kapofi, said they had observed that “the political and security environment in the pre-election phase and voting day was calm and peaceful”.

“There were no security concerns that could adversely affect the conduct of the elections.

“Article 13.2.6 (1) of the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2021) requires the neutrality of security forces in the electoral process. The Mission observed that the security agencies provided a supportive role including maintaining law and order during the election period,” Mr Kapofi added.

He said they had received reports from political parties that there were inaccuracies in the voters’ roll prepared by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

“Whilst acknowledging the efforts of the IEC in fulfilling its mandate, the Mission noted the concerns from stakeholders regarding inaccuracies in the First Certified Voters’ Roll published after voters verification exercise. Specifically, that the First Certified Voters Roll did not include names of some registered voters and it contained names of some deceased persons and duplicated voters’ names. Further, there were also complaints of delays in the publication of the Final Voters’ Roll.”

Mr Kapofi said his team had also been informed that the IEC had experienced budgetary constraints and this had impacted negatively on the discharge of its mandate.

On her part, AU Head of Mission, Speciosa Kazibwe, said they were satisfied with the IEC’s provision of voting templates for the visually impaired.

They were also pleased that the Commission had extended the right to vote to prisoners as provided for by the constitution.

“The AU also observed that there were well-controlled queues outside all polling stations. The process was peaceful and transparent at all polling stations visited by the AU.

“We commend the electoral and political maturity of the people of the Kingdom of Lesotho as well as the successful conduct of the elections against the backdrop of a global pandemic and a multidimensional geopolitical crisis. We further commend the work of the IEC and the hospitality of internal and external stakeholders,” Dr Kazibwe said.

She urged the government to deepen efforts to implement consensual reforms to consolidate the electoral and political system. She said the IEC must also be provided with the necessary resources and capacity to enable it to effectively discharge its mandate.

“The IEC should further strengthen the capacity of its members and the culture of consensus in all stages of electoral process as a guarantee of transparency and democratic consolidation. It should stimulate the representation of women, youth and people living with disabilities in its fields of competence for more inclusiveness. The political parties must pursue further efforts to achieve intraparty democracy and gender balance in their electoral representation and continue to promote peace and use legal channels in case of disputes,” Dr Kazibwe said.

Commonwealth Observer Group chairperson, Danny Faure, said they were pleased by the calm and peaceful atmosphere in which the elections took place.

“I would like to seize this opportunity to commend and recognise the work of the IEC, the security forces, civil society organisations, and faith-based groups in working together to prepare electorates for this election, in light of budgetary constraints, time, and capacity limitations,” Mr Faure said.

He also thanked the media for covering the elections in a fair manner.

“The media, most especially state-owned, has been fair in its reportage and equitable in its coverage of the election particularly. We also commend the private media for leading on issues, particularly questioning IEC on its general conduct, and highlighting the issues of the voter roll,” he said.

The Commonwealth mission also hailed the participation of women and youth as polling staff and party agents.

Their commitment and dedication to their roles were evident in their preparedness to work together in transparency and the long hours they spent in preparing the polling stations and tallying the results, the Commonwealth noted.

The mission also acknowledged the role of civil society associations and groups in facilitating voter education in order to encourage the populace to vote.

Like other observer missions, the Commonwealth said the Commonwealth had noted some problems on the elections day.

“Some polling stations and party agents did not have final copies of the voter’s roll even on election day. Some voters could not find their names on the rolls and some were directed to other constituencies due to boundary delimitation exercises that changed their voting stations. Some information like dates of births on some voter’s ID cards did not correspond to the information on the voter’s roll,” Mr Faure said.

Addressing the same press conference, Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries (ECF-SADC) Mission leader, Denis Kadima, said they were pleased with the participation of minority groups in the voting process.

Mr Kadima said the requirement that political parties include women and men in equal numbers and alternating positions on their party lists for proportional representation seats has contributed to the improvement of women’s representation in the National Assembly.

As this requirement only applies to the proportional representation in parliament, women remain a significant minority of constituency candidates, he noted.

“Consequently, only 30 percent of constituency candidates in the 2022 elections were women, which is not an improvement over the 2017 elections,” Mr Kadima said.

In a separate media briefing, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) also said the elections were conducted in a transparent manner.

EU EOM Chief Observer, Ignazio Corrao, said the pre-election atmosphere was peaceful as well.

He said although preparations were marred by limited financial resources for the IEC, the electoral body carried out most of its activities in accordance with the election calendar.

He said the IEC managed the voting professionally and their staff displayed strong dedication to their duties.

Nevertheless, unlimited campaign spending by some of the parties and biased radio coverage contributed to an uneven playing field among contestants, disadvantaging smaller parties and independent candidates, Mr Corrao said.