‘Maserib­ane says se­cu­rity re­mains a con­cern

Lesotho Times - - Elections 2015 - Billy Ntaote

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

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