…as polling date is estimated at October 14-17
In move to actualize the country’s preparations for the upcoming General Elections set for later in the year, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is said to have received an initial batch of the funds dedicated for the elections, Newsday has learnt.
According to the Minister of Law and Justice Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, 40% of the monies budgeted for this year’s national Assembly elections was disbursed into the elections governing body yesterday has all the necessary preparations can be launched.
In his budgetary estimates presentation for the 2022/23 fiscal year, finance minister Thabo Sophonea, indicated that this year’s polls will gobble up to M300 million in taxpayers’ funds.
The money disbursement will assist the IEC to start carrying out its duties in preparation of this year’s elections but it may not meet up to IEC’s appetite of holding both the local government and national assembly elections simultaneously.
In a recent interview with this publication this week, IEC Director for Elections Advocate Mpaiphele Maqutu pointed to the Commission’s intent of holding the different tiers of elections together.
“This is something that has happened in other African countries but not in all of them because, for instance, South Africa holds its separately but there is a conviction that it is actually cheaper to hold two-in-one elections,” Maqutu said.
He however said with the issue of funds, unless and until IEC gets more money to fund the two elections, they can only hold one set of elections which is the National Assembly elections.
“We have asked for money from the central government. It was in the budget speech, but that money for one set of elections and not for two and unless we find funding for both, combined elections cannot happen,” he said
He further told this paper that combined elections cannot be held without embarking on electoral education which is an embodiment of civic and voter’s education.
“The voter who is used to vote separately has to be mentally prepared through the voters’ education because this would be the very first time that such is done,” Maqutu said, adding however, that the two are held under two different legislations.
He said it was then decided on the Election Bill which seeks to harmonize the two laws into one for the elections to be held at the same time.
“Unfortunately it has not been passed through Parliament yet and in the absence of that piece of legislation, the two elections can still be held but because they are governed by two separate laws and the time for each to be held is different under the two separate laws, they will have to be done separately,” he said adding he cannot commit himself as to when the bill will be passed and whether the two laws will be harmonized because the processes are not in the control of the IEC.
Maqutu however said preparations are afoot to make sure that they start working saying they are already behind schedule.
Maqutu further spoke of the Political Parties Bill saying it was another bill they hope can also be passed so that it limits or puts a framework on the number of political parties which currently number over 50.
“We also have the Political Parties Bill which we are hoping also passes. This bill will help limit or put a framework in the number of political parties that should be contesting polls and what should one comply with to be there as a political party.
“In the last regular elections which ware held in 2017 we had 27 parties but as we speak there are 53. In about a week and a half to come there might be more. Are we saying it is sustainable with a population of over 2 million to have so many political parties?”
He said the will of the people will determine what is right and what is not saying it is however unsustainable from an affordability perspective.
Maqutu said they also want the national ID to be used when voting instead of the voter’s card saying this was an issue that passed through parliament as a motion of the need of a new voter’s roll.
“The voter’s roll needs to be scrapped and there should be a complete re-registration that will allow the usage of an ID because it’s a unique identifier with a one number that only belongs to one person from the day they are given that ID to the day they die,” he said adding that with voter’s cards there are people who own more than one.
He said with the political parties bill, they want that in the current law there should be made an amendment that the national ID should be used and do away with the voter’s card.
He said they also want to introduce electronic registration so that at the convenience and the comfort of people’s home one can register using their smart phone or computer.
“They can register at the internet cafes and log in the IEC portal and register or update the registration credentials so that come Election Day people just come with their ID’s and vote.
Maqutu said there is a study that was commissioned of low voter turn outs and a lot of people who do not come to vote is the youth and almost everyone has a Smartphone.
“Imagine how we would revolutionize elections if we were to introduce electronic registration. It is convenient speaks to the youth and the diaspora because wherever they are in the world, they can just log online and register or update then election day they can come and vote” Maqutu said.
He said technology can be used to make life more easy and convenient and as the IEC they are rising up to that challenge.
Maqutu said they will be working with the ministry of home affairs to ensure that they do not compromise controls and checks.
Maqutu said this year’s elections are marked with a few challenges however stating that they are not insurmountable. He ensured Basotho that IEC is all geared up to ensure that they deliver credible elections for Lesotho’s upcoming elections while also mindful of the challenges around issues of Covid-19.
“Because we are living during the times when our state of readiness has to factor in issues of Covid-19, we need to be mindful and when we speak of elections we speak of an event which can potentially become a super spreader in terms of amassing a large number of people under one roof,” Maqutu said.
He said as part of their preparations, they want to pitch open tents for ventilation as some of the measures to control the pandemic the world is currently faced with.
Asked about the exact date of when elections will be help, Maqutu said the date set for elections is governed by the law saying it is determined buy when the first joint seating of the two houses of parliament was.
“In many forums the motion that elections are in September come up but the date is governed by the law. It’s not a thumbs up matter that the elections will be held at a certain time, it is regulated by the law.
We look at when the first joint seating of the two houses of parliament was then from that date we count five years later,” Maqutu said.
He said the first seating was on July 14 2017 saying “…five years down the line, we are looking at July 14 2022 as a date in which parliament is expected to be dissolved.
“From that day we count three more months of the election period which will put us at October. His Majesty the King is given four days to declare the day of the elections. So we are looking at around 14 to 17th of October scientifically.”
Maqutu said these are scientific calculations based on the law.