‘Maseribane says security remains a concern
THE political turmoil which characterised the 1998 elections has left such an indelible mark in the minds of many that any reference to the country’s voters’ roll raises eyebrows.
The discontent in 1998 over the outcome of the general elections was predicated upon the accessibility, or lack thereof, of a list of eligible voters to the contesting political parties. Now that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has suspended voter registration, there are more questions about the voters’ roll and its centrality in ensuring credible elections. Though it has been said over and again that the voters’ roll is critical for ensuring credible polls, it is still not yet clear to some people.
The voters’ roll is a listing of all those registered to vote in a particular area. In terms of the National Assembly Electoral Act, only citizens of Lesotho who have attained the age of 18 years can and should register as voters. Registration for elections is not a choice but an obligation for all citizens of voting age. The law prohibits those sentenced to death, declared of unsound mind and who have been convicted of offences related to registration to register.
Preliminary reports from the IEC indicate there is are an estimated 1 215 206 people on the voter’s roll which marks an increase of about 75 000 new voters from the 2012 list.
The 2015 National Assembly elections came earlier than anticipated and could justifiably have found many unprepared. Normally, it is political motivation and enthusiasm to participate in elections that push people to register.
Lesotho’s voter registration process is continuous. This means that the registration for voters goes on all the time and will be suspended for eight days after the announcement of the election period.
Even if one were to apply for registration during the election period, the application would not be processed until 90 days after the elections when registration resumes. It is therefore wise for those who turn 18 to ensure they register as soon as they qualify so that they are not caught unprepared.
As the registration process has been suspended and other significant electoral preparatory steps have since followed, the electorate has become more anxious. However, it is the duty of those who can to explain some of the processes with the hope that doing so enhances voters’ confidence.
The concerns over registration have been raised and include phantom voters, double registrations, unclear photos and badly captured finger prints to mention a few. Since the law requires the removal of the deceased from the roll, a single registration and that photos and finger prints are add ons to the identity, these concerns are legitimate as far as the integrity of the voters roll is concerned.
Though it is the expectation that the IEC will work on them to fulfil the requirements of the law and enhance voters trust in the whole process, what would be interesting is whether these concerns can have impact on the result of elections?
Since only those who appear in the list shall have a right to vote and do so once, it may not be possible for those registered on multiple occasions to benefit in any form from such except that it is illegal to register more than once. The voter should produce a voter registration card and their name should appear in the list whereupon it is cancelled from the roll upon voting. This voter eligibility verification process is done by polling staff in the presence of party agents as well as a traditional chief or their representative.
Phantom voting is equally challenging because this would mean that an unregistered person uses the identity of a deceased person whose name has not been removed from the roll to vote. Since the traditional chief and party agents, in most cases, are people within the communities the voters reside, it is difficult for an unknown person to vote or for them to use an identity document of a deceased person who might also be known within the locality.
The fingerprints and photos form part of the necessary safeguards but, at this stage, the IEC has not yet used the technology whereby the finger print on the voter’s card could be significant to voter identity. It should, however, be expected that the Commission may BASOTHO National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane says he lives under “curfew” and only ventures outdoors during daytime due to security concerns.
Addressing the National University of Lesotho community on Tuesday this week during a dialogue on BNP policies regarding the 28 February 2015 parliamentary elections and how he views the country’s prevailing security situation, Chief ‘Maseribane said the fact that he remains under the protection of South African security agents, and the lack of freedom due to the “strict curfew” — as well as Sunday’s gun battle between members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) near the Royal Palace right in the city centre — meant all was not well in the country.
The BNP leader, together with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, have been under foreign guard since returning from South Africa on 3 September 2014, where both had sought refuge five days earlier after being tipped-off about an imminent coup d’état by some Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members.
Chief ‘Maseribane further noted Sunday’s gunfight just outside King Letsie III’S residence justified his security fears.
The BNP leader, who is also the Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, said the weekend shooting, which resulted in the death of a bystander, must be condemned in the strongest terms.
“Government continues to know about all clandestine meetings where assassination plots are dis- introduce the use of scanners that would be able to tell in which voting station one is supposed to vote reading the finger print. If the Commission finally decides to use this technology that was suspended previously upon request of politicians for reasons that were never made public, it will help many voters who at times are turned back from voting stations either because they do not appear in the lists at the stations, or they are in different voting stations they were not aware of.
For the recently registered voters whose finger prints are machine readable, that technology could be used for identity purposes as well. Though dark, photos cannot really prevent one from voting. Upon producing the card and identification of the name appearing on the card in the voters’ list with corresponding details one is normally positively identified without. Up to 1998, voters would produce their cards and vote even if their names were not in the voters’ roll. In the event that one gives evidence that she or he registered, they would be allowed to vote and the name would be inserted with a pen in the voters’ roll. In this way, the voters’ roll was not only vulnerable but also gave room for many irregularities.
Though the law empowers voters, prospective voters and political parties to inspect the voters’ roll and lodge objections if they identify a person who does not qualify to be a voter, not many are doing it. cussed,” Chief ‘Maseribane said, regarding the prevailing insecurity.
“The National Security Service always gives us such reports and as a result, we are under strict curfew. I can only be out of my house during the day because of security concerns,” said Chief ‘Maseribane.
“I was in a very long security meeting this morning where we agreed that we can’t allow the death of civilians through senseless shooting by our security forces. What’s worse is those skirmishes took place outside the King’s palace.
“The history of our Special Forces (some of whose members were involved in the shooting) has never been a good one. Members of that unit believe they are superior to other soldiers and have always been a problem. It goes without saying that our forefathers who saw the need to place the army under civilian control, were not wrong.
“So our army should be under civilian control and not be like loose cannons. One concern, as the BNP, is that the army wants to be involved in civilian issues and this is also a result of having barracks within Maseru City Council; in residential areas.”
Chief ‘Maseribane added a BNP government would ensure the LDF was more involved in other areas of the country’s economy.
“We would also look at how best the LDF could assist the Ministry of Agriculture, for instance, or provide security at sensitive government projects. Again, we would look at how and when the army can assist the police to enhance police services,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.
Registration is one of the highly contentious stages of the election preparation process because, as earlier indicated, even the unqualified can vote as long as they make their way through registration. For years, IEC officials have been viewed with suspicion both by political parties and their members. Though that suspicion is dangerous when excessive, it can actually be used to impress upon the voters and political parties the need to check the roll when it is displayed at the constituency offices.
Political parties could actually use the progressive provisions of this law to launch massive campaigns to check their names and identify irregularities. If for one reason or another an officer accepts an application for registration from a person who does not qualify and that unqualified person eventually appears in the list, it is incumbent upon the voters to object. If parties and voters want to clean the roll, they should go in numbers to check their names and make sure that only the eligible are in the list.
Otherwise the unqualified who manipulated their way into the voters roll will certainly vote and determine the outcome. It is normally reported in the media that voters complain about people who have been transferred from one area to another against the law in an attempt to maximise the chances of a particular political party winning in certain areas but all those can be effectively rectified.
IT is wise for those who turn 18 to ensure they register to vote as soon as they qualify so that they are not caught unprepared, opines the writer.
BNP leader Thesele 'Maseribane