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Negotiations over election timetable

A group of southern African foreign ministers is due in Lesotho at the end of the month to try and nail down agreement on the date for fresh elections in the politically volatile mountain kingdom, political sources told IRIN.

The framework of a deal was reached last month between the government and opposition parties mediated by Commonwealth special envoy, Moses Anafu.

Its key points are that a timetable for fresh elections should be drawn up by independent experts; two Commonwealth officials would sit on a new electoral commission; a security liaison committtee would be formed with representatives of all political parties and the Lesotho army; a contact group of party representatives created with access to the prime minister; and a joint committee on the public media set up to ensure equitable airtime.

The agreement, however, remains unsigned with no date fixed for fresh elections.

After last year’s political upheaval surrounding opposition allegations of election rigging - which spured South African and Botswana’s military intervention to forestall what they described as an incipient coup - a peace settlement was agreed which stipulated that elections would be held in April 2000.
However, little progress has been made on the preparations for fresh polls, and the setting of a new date remains highly contentious.

“The opposition thinks the government wants to spin out the date in order to stay longer, and has demanded a government of national unity by May 2000,” one political source close to the negotiations said. “The government suspects the opposition wants to engineer a situation where it will be forced to share power and insists that a national unity government must be mandated by the people.”

The foreign ministers of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe arrive in Lesotho on 29 November to meet with the government and political parties over the status of the Commonwealth-mediated agreement. Their intervention signals that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is now back in the driving seat of the process of thrashing out a solution to the Lesotho crisis.

But SADC’s diplomatic initiative could also see the unravelling of the political agreement as all sides try to renegotiate its terms.

“SADC will have to be very careful how it plays its role,” the political source said. “If properly handled the agreement should see them through safely to an uneventful election. But, if they don’t get it right, Lesotho could enter a phase of permanent instability.”

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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