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Election delayed again

Country Map - Lesotho
HIV/AIDS affected households will not benefit from the kingdom's land reforms. (IRIN)

Continued wrangling between Lesotho's upper and lower houses of parliament means elections scheduled for May 2001 will not go ahead. At a briefing meeting for diplomats and donors in the capital Maseru on Wednesday, the all-party Interim Political Authority (IPA) blamed government and parliament for the slow submission and processing of two bills related to the election. "Legislators don't want this election because they're worried they may be voted out and have no income," IPA co-chair Bereng Sekhonyana told IRIN on Thursday.

The IPA warned that failure to hold elections this year would totally erode any remaining credibility in the current negotiation process. Political violence engulfed Lesotho following disputed elections in 1998. Lack of preparation and political wrangling forced the postponement of the elections originally scheduled for April 2000. Part of the current delay is due todisagreement between Lesotho's two legislative bodies. The Lower House wants a seat mix ratio of 80 candidates elected by the 'first past the post' method and 40 elected by proportional representation. But the Upper House wants an 80 - 50 mix. However, the IPA reported on Wednesday it was confident that a compromise could be reached and that the electoral process could move forward.

Another sticking point appears to have been overcome. Disagreement between the government and the IPA over voter registration has been resolved with parliament recently passing a bill on registration. Sekhonyana Bereng of the UNDP's Maseru office told IRIN that the government would now go along with any system of registration agreed to by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). The IPA feared that the government would drag its feet over gazetting the bill, leading to further delays. But on Thursday the IPA's co-chair told IRIN that he had just learnt that the bill would soon become law, meaning that another hurdle had now been dealt with.

The IPA has called for a new election timetable, given that the target of May 2001 can no longer be met. The authority also said it wanted both the government and legislature to respect its decisions, pointing out that under the IPA Act no provision had been made for the overturning of IPA decisions. The IPA said that given that differences in parliament have narrowedconsiderably over the seat mix ratio, holding elections in the later part of 2001 wa s not overly optimistic.

But many observers feel that realistically, elections can only be conducted in 2002. "It'll be ten months after all the problems are resolved before we can have a proper election here," Seabata Motsamai of Lesotho's NGO coalition told IRIN. He pointed out that there was much work to be done around voter education as well as registration. Motsamai said many politicians and the majority of the Basotho people feel delays in the electoral process are worth it if the end result is a fair and credible poll.

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:

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