January 23, 2007

Elections on February 17 under scrutiny

The Lesotho elections, set for 17 February, will give approximately 920.000 registered voters an opportunity to choose National Assembly representatives. The country's Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said there are 16.750 new voters who have registered since the 2002 general elections. EC spokesperson, Tuoe Hantsi, pledged that the final voters roll will be ready before 17 February.

There are 19 political parties vying for 80 constituencies to be contested on a first-past-the-post electoral system. The two front-runners are the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the newly formed All Basotho Convention (ABC). The LCD, led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, has been in power since May 1998. The ABC was formed in October by former communications minister, Thomas Thabane, who, together with 18 other parliamentarians, resigned from the LCD government after complaining of non-delivery.

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy in which King Letsie III serves a largely ceremonial function. According to the country's constitution, the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly automatically becomes prime minister. The country uses the dual electoral system under which 40 more parliamentary seats are allocated on the basis of proportional representation system. Under the system, the party with the largest number of elected candidates will get the biggest share of the 40 extra seats.

These will be sixth polls since independence from Britain in 1966. Previous post-independence elections were held in 1970, 1985, 1993, 1998 and 2002. he polls will be watched with keen interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), for which Lesotho is the current chair. The elections will be significant in that they will be the litmus test on whether the SADC region is indeed on a permanent path towards democratisation of its political systems. As SADC chair, Lesotho will be expected to lead from the front and the forthcoming polls will provide a test of that. The country will be the seventh country to use the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Elections, adopted in 2004, to run its elections. Other member states where the guidelines have already been used are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

One of the conditions set out in the SADC guidelines is the requirement that member states conducting elections must guarantee "equal opportunity for all political parties to access the State media". Lesotho has so far managed to do that, with the state media, Radio Lesotho and Television Lesotho offering an hour to all political parties to put their manifestos to the public. The elections will also be significant in that they could result in the change of the guard at the helm of SADC in the event that current chairperson, Mosisili, is not re-elected.
The new leader will have to quickly acclimatise to the developments within SADC in order to steer the regional ship at this crucial juncture when southern Africa is moving towards establishing a Free Trade Area (FTA). (Southern African News Feature, Harare)

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