UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
LESOTHO NEWS ONLINE/LESOTHO NEWS ONLINE/LESOTHO NEWS
FIRST EDITION 3 MARCH 1998
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LESOTHO: ELECTION 23 MAY 1998
The second post-independence election for the tiny landlocked mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and its 1.9 million people has been set for May 23 this year. This was announced in parliament February 18 by the deputy prime minister of Lesotho and leader of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Mr Pakalitha Mosisili.
The announcement was made five months following the establishment of the three-man teamIndependent Electoral Commission (IEC), somewhat hesitantly formed by the government ofprime minister Ntsu Mokhehle on September 4 last year. The opposition parties had asked for the administration of elections to be removed from the hands of civil servants to the IEC and had threatened to boycott the elections if the government did not agree to this. After a one year tug-of-war and international pressure, the government bowed to this. As a sign that the election date had been set, King Letsie III dissolved the parliament on February 27.
At the time when the election date was announced, only seven of Lesothoís eighteen political parties had registered for elections with the IEC.The new Electoral Law, which established the IEC and transferred powers from the government Electoral Office to the new body, demands that political parties contesting elections register with the IEC.
The public relations officer for IEC, Mrs ëMamatlere Matete, said doors were still open for the remaining - and new parties - to register until the date for placing of candidates has been announced. Meanwhile, fierce campaigning has already started. Political analysts believe the number of political parties contesting the coming elections will be very low. This is because the electoral law has inserted a condition that before any political party can register with it, that political party must prove that it has at least 500 members, who must all sign the registration forms. Any party that appears to be falsifying information by submitting indistinct signatures risks nullification of its registration.
Registration of voters is still underway countrywide with the deadline not yet set, and the IEC says registration will only stop after candidates have been placed and has announced no date for this as yet.
The IEC has said that turnout is satisfactory at the registration stations and the number of registered voters is expected to be higher than in the last elections. This expectation is because of the lowering of the minimum voting age from 21 to 18. The number of seats in parliament have been increased from 65 to 80.
In the last elections, out of 736 930 people registered as voters, only 532 678 actually voted. However, the high number of registered voters this time may not be a guarantee of high voter turn out considering the present apathy in the country because of the ruling party's failure to deliver on its promises.
Previously, the Lesotho political stage nearly always saw only three political party players in the country's elections. These are the Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), the working class party which won a landslide victory in the first successful post-independence democratic elections of 1993, occupying all the 65 seats of the parliament.
The second is the Basotho National Party (BNP), the liberals and capitalist party that won the first pre-independence multi-party elections of 1965 but later suspended the constitution, ruling by degree for twenty years until toppled by the army on January 20, 1986. The third party is Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), always acting the catalyst between the two rivals, supporting the royal family and chieftainship.
However, in the upcoming elections it is not the three 'superpowers' which are expected to create a stir on the political stage of Lesotho.
The BCP, winner of the 1993 elections, broke into two factions in August last year following a protracted power struggle that saw the founder of the party 52 years ago, Dr Ntsu Mokhehle, resigning and taking with him a majority of the members of parliament to form the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). This new party then automatically declared itself the government and assumed the reins of power. Old faces under a new name.
Local media reports indicate that the BNP, which previously always ran parallel in competition with the BCP, will win the coming elections by a small margin because of the breakup of the BCP and the birth of LCD, though the LCD has grown in popularity within a short space of time as the party in government. Even so, it would appear that it is the BNP that is ahead with a golden chance to win.
1. HEAVY RAINS PLAY HAVOC WITH CEREAL CROPS
The unexpectedly heavy rains that fell over the whole country during the months of January and February have played havoc with cereal crops.
The Lesotho Meteorological Services says even though the rains have broken a long dry spell which started in August last year, most of the cereal crops such as wheat, lentils, sorghum and maize have been washed away by the heavy rain at the time when most farmers were preparing to harvest. The rainy season in Lesotho normally starts in August and ends in December. Farmers start ploughing their fields in August with a hope of harvesting in March and April when it is dry. This year, however, they were caught unawares.
Even under normal circumstances, Lesotho is deficient its cereal crops production. This is especially so with maize, a staple crop. This deficit is so high that the country inherently imports between 15 and 20 percent of its total cereal requirements from neighbouring South Africa.
With the heavy rain storms that washed away crops - crops already adversely affected by drought during the ploughing season - the country now has to import about 324 thousand tonnes of its 528.8 thousand tonnes total food requirements. Only 204.8 thousand tonnes is expected to be harvested locally.This means the country is now facing a serious food shortage.
The chief executive of Disaster Management Authority (DMA), Mr. Leteketa Molapo said the organisation was aware of the disaster and as a result a 15-man board had been formed to work out some form of relief measure.He said a relief plan had already been submitted to the cabinet for government approval and funding.
Even though this time, unlike previous occasions, food aid and funding from donors have not been sought, Molapo says the government may decide to lodge an appeal after examining the situation. "The clear situation of the shortage of cereal crops will be known in April when most farmers will have harvested all their crops." Molapo said.
2. TEXTILE FIRM CLAIMS LOSES OF $500.000 IN VIOLENT STRIKE ACTION
A textile firm in Maseru that manufactures jeans for export claims to have lost the equivalent of US$500.000 due to cancellation of orders and damaged property, following violent action by strikers at the factory.
Workers striking for salary increases and improved working conditions allegedly resorted to violence and arson, destroying stock, vehicles and factory property in the process. The strike, involving 3000 workers, started February 12 and had reached a deadlock with the management. Riot police was called in and during scuffles one female worker was shot dead while 45 were seriously injured.
The manager of Basotho Jeans, Krish Moodley, threatened to close down the firm and move it out of Lesotho if the police did not stop the strikers and ensure maximum security for the property. Moodley claimed workers were striking unlawfully. He is supported in this by the labour commissioner, Limpho Mandoro, who said workers did not follow proper procedures before striking.
Moodley fired all 3000 February 24 and began employing new workers to take over their jobs. He said that even though Lesotho has high unemployment - 50% - it would take time to recruit the required number of 3000. He said immediately after those on strike were fired, the firm recruited 1600 new workers on the spot, but only 300 reported to work the following day due to threats by the old employees.
The secretary general of Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union (LECAWU), Billy Macaefa, said workers were unfairly treated by the company. He said that Basotho Jeans raised the work load of its employees on a daily basis, allowed only a 15 minutes lunch break and paid very little in wages.
Asked to comment on the woman shot dead by the police, Moodley said the firm would compensate the family by giving about US$60 every month to raise her three year-old child until the age of eighteen.
On Friday, February 27, the situation was still tense at Basotho Jeans and neighbouring factories as all textile industry workers went on a solidarity strike. Police in riot gear were out in force.
3. LESOTHO PREMIER RESIGNS FROM PARTY POLITICS
Lesothoís ailing premier, Dr Ntsu Mokhehle (76), has called it a day in party politics but is still hanging on in national politics as prime minister until after the May 23 general elections.
He resigned at the LCD's first general conference since it was formed in August 1997, which was held in Maseru on February 21. To honour what members of LCD described as his distinct political leadership skills, Dr Mokhehle has been declared 'His Excellency, The Life President of LCD'. Mokhehle is succeeded by his deputy, Pakalitha Mosisili, who is in turn deputized by the minister of foreign affairs, Kelebone Maope.
Dr Mokhehle is widely believed to be more popular and to have more of a following than the two parties he led at different times. He has said that he resigned from BCP last year to form LCD in order to avoid the power struggle which slowed down the programmes of the BCP government. This time he says he is resigning from LCD because of old age and ill health.
4. NEWSPAPER EMERGES VICTORIOUS IN DEFAMATION CASE
A legal battle between MoAfrika Newspaper and four of Lesotho's cabinet ministers has finally come to an end with the paper emerging victorious.
The tussle between MoAfrika and the ministers was an episode in a defamation case where the ministers claimed M12 million (US$2 million) for malicious defamation. The argument, which stonewalled the main trial on defamation, came about when MoAfrika raised an objection to the use of Lesotho's attorney general as a representative for the ministers in a case of civil defamation.
The Appeal Court ruled that the attorney general was not entitled to appear on behalf of ministers of the crown 'as plaintiffs attempting to recover damages for defamation allegedly perpetrated in the past or to interdict defamation apprehended in future'.
The four ministers are:Pakalitha Mosisili,the leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), deputy prime minister and minister of home affairs; the younger brother to prime minister Ntsu Mokhehle and minister of natural resources, Shakhane Mokhehle; the minister of justice, law and constitutional affairs, Sephiri Motanyane; minister of labour and employment, Notshi Molopo.
5. POLITICAL PARTIES LOCK HORNS OVER COLOURS
A protracted struggle by two political parties over a similarity of colours was finally resolved by the Lesotho High Court on February 25.
High Court Judge, Justice Winston Churchill Maqutu ordered the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) to stop using the black, green and red colours 'in any arrangement' of the opposition Basotholand Congress Party (BCP). The high court ruling follows an urgent application by the BCP contesting the use of its colours by LCD.
The judge said the use of the colours by LCD was a serious violation of the rights of the BCP since it was causing confusion making it difficult for both supporters and spectators to differentiate between the two parties. He also directed the LCD leadership to stop its supporters from wearing clothing or carrying umbrellas bearing the colours, at LCD meetings or rallies.
Observers suspect that the court ruling is likely to confuse followers of the LCD which now has to change colours with elections only three months away.
6. GOVERNMENT GIVES NO CLUES IN CENTRAL PRISON COMMANDER'S DISAPPEARANCE
Major Lakhanya, fifth man in the Lesotho hierarchy of national prisons, disappeared mysteriously on December 29 1997, and according to accounts from the police criminal investigation department and from national security service operatives, the search for him has yielded nothing.
Major Lekhanya was in charge of Central Prison, Lesothoís principal prison in the capital Maseru. The prison holds convicted prisoners and suspects of the most serious crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery, sedition and high treason.
Facts about his disappearance are being kept quiet by the Lesotho government who say that they cannot tell as yet 'whether the disappearance is crime related, politically related or a mere French leave'.
7. LESOTHO MEDIA GETS US$560.000 BOOST
The Embassy of Ireland in Lesotho, through its development aid programme (Irish-Aid), has donated R2.8 million ($560.000) towards media development in Lesotho.
This grant will be shared between the Media Institute of Lesotho (MILES), an NGO for independent media organisations, and the mass communication department of the National University of Lesotho.
The grant, which is to be utilized within a period of three years, through to the year 2000, is intended to ensure the growth and power of a free independent and pluralistic media in Lesotho. One that can play both a meaningful role in the maintenance of democracy and act as a watchdog of human rights violations.
MILES intends to use the grant for the training of media personnel, construction of buildings for a media resource centre and the establishment of a media legal defence fund with the aim of assisting journalists and independent media institutions facing political persecution.The mass communication department is to build a studio laboratory and purchase equipment for mass communication students.
Tom Wright, Irish consul to Lesotho, says he hopes the grant will help to improve free and independent media as well as helping Lesotho to continue producing objective reporters.
From: AfricaNN@inform-bbs.dk (Africa_news Network) Date: Tue, 03 Mar 1998 19:21:18 +0100 Subject: LESOTHO NEWS ONLINE #1 Message-ID: <email@example.com>
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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