May 3, 2005

Poor voter turnout marks first ever nationwide local poll

More than 90 percent of the votes have been counted in Lesotho's local government election, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has announced. "The results from 124 of the 129 councils have already been determined, and we can say that the ruling party [Lesotho Congress for Democracy] has so far been on top. We are awaiting the outcome of the remaining five councils and then we will release a statement explaining the results in detail," IEC-spokesman Rethabile Pholo said.

Some urban areas have held council ballots in the past, but these were Lesotho's first nationwide local government elections. According to the IEC, independent candidates had "faired well" in the landmark local poll. A major concern, however, was the thin voter turnout. More than 800.000 people registered for the election, but less than 40 percent had cast their ballots. "This poor showing is a wake-up call to the IEC. We need to broaden the voter education campaign and raise awareness among communities, who actually had no idea what these elections were about. One of the recommendations suggested was to introduce voter education into the school syllabus," Pholo said.

Kelebone Maope, leader of the Lesotho People's Congress and a spokesman for the opposition parties, argued, however, that while voter apathy could be attributed the lack of awareness among local communities, "most people stayed away because of election irregularities". Eleven Lesotho opposition parties - backed by some civil society groups - voiced their disapproval over holding local government elections, claiming that preparations had been incomplete. They accused the authorities of failing to update the voters' roll, that in some areas the polling stations had not been publicised, and that local councils were currently powerless and would not be able to fulfil their mandates. (IRIN)


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