April 28, 2005

Opposition 'disapproves' of local poll conditions

Eleven opposition parties have voiced their "disapproval" over holding local government elections by the end of April, claiming that preparations are incomplete. "We are not boycotting the elections, as our candidates have already been campaigning for it, but we have several concerns - the voters' roll has not been updated, the final voters' list has not been released and, in some areas, voting venues have not been publicised," Kelebone Maope, leader of the Lesotho People's Congress and a spokesman for the opposition parties said.
The elections on 30 April will be the mountain kingdom's first-ever municipal poll. After the ballot, 129 local councils will replace the present Village Development Councils, comprising traditional leaders and government officials, which currently dispense municipal services.
The opposition parties' concerns were echoed by the Lesotho Council of NGOs (Lecongo), an umbrella body of civil society organisations. "We have been trying to address these concerns through our forums," explained Tsebo Matsasa, Lecongo's democracy and human rights coordinator. According to him, the NGOS were not satisfied with the voter education campaign. "Many of our surveys have revealed that people are not aware of the elections, or what the new local government is about. It is all in shambles - people do not even know where they have to go to cast their vote," commented political analyst Francis Makoa.
Besides their concerns over the logistics of the electoral process, the opposition and Lecongo were also unhappy with a constitutional amendment that reserves a third of the total seats in the new councils for women. "It is unconstitutional, as it is discrimination against men," said Maope. The minister of local government, Matumelo Pontso Susan Sekatle, has reportedly defended her decision to introduce the quota system for women. Another cause of dissatisfaction to opposition parties and civil society was that the local councils were currently powerless and would have no way of enforcing their authority. (IRIN)

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