Baha'i News -- Maseru Political Leaders Commit to Peaceful Dialogue in Run-Up to National Elections

Maseru Political Leaders Commit to Peaceful Dialogue in Run-Up to National Elections

United Nations Development Programme (New York)

May 23, 2002
Posted to the web May 23, 2002

New York

Political and religious leaders in Lesotho came together in a rare display of unity in preparation for the country's general elections on Saturday, 25 May. For the first time since the country's disputed elections in 1998, which led to civil unrest and military intervention by forces of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), leaders of all political parties convened to commit themselves to a peaceful election process and to respect the will of the people.

A key outcome of the conference on Monday was agreement by all parties to convene immediately after election results are announced and to form a new government through inter-party dialogue and political negotiations. The party leaders also discussed the possibility of appointing a facilitator to lead the post-election negotiations, how to allocate cabinet posts and align party priorities in a potential coalition government, and the important role to be played by the opposition in the new National Assembly.

UNDP helped organize the historic gathering through negotiations with political parties, religious and traditional leaders, and civil society representatives. Participants included representatives of the 16 parties contesting the elections, including incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Pakalitha Mosisili, and the former head of Lesotho's Military Council, Justin Lekhanya, who leads the Basotho National Party.

After an unprecedented inter-faith prayer by the leaders of the Catholic, Baha'i and Islamic communities, the Bishop of Maseru, Phillip Mokuku, called on the political leaders to: "Unite as one people and one nation.

Not to fight over differences, but celebrate them in a peaceful process towards the betterment of the lives of all Basotho."

The conference provided a unique opportunity for the political leaders to revisit fundamental principles of democratic pluralism, iron out key issues in the run-up to the poll and examine key challenges that may arise after polling day, especially as a result of the country's new electoral system.

With the move away from the previous first-past-the-post system to a mixed-member proportional model, the possibility has opened for a greater number of parties to be represented in the expanded 120-member National Assembly. However, since the country's constitution foresees one party achieving an absolute majority, the prospects of multi-party representation created uncertainty prior to the conference as to the process of government formation after the elections.

Amara Essy, Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity, in Lesotho during a tour of the sub-region, said that the transfer of power through peaceful elections remains the single biggest challenge for the continent. "After the disputed polls in Zimbabwe and Madagascar, everyone is looking to Lesotho to lead the continent by example, by securing peace and stability after the elections," he said.

The conference was "a major breakthrough" in Lesotho's nation-building process, said Scholastica Kimaryo, UNDP Resident Representative. "The party leaders have taken a crucial step in laying the foundation for a peaceful transfer of power," she said. "For the first time in the nation's history we can realistically hope for a government that can focus its efforts on democracy, peace and development, and which can effectively lead the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS."

Leshele Thoahlane, Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, which runs the elections, said the commission would continue to perform its duties with maximum transparency and strive to report the final results within a week after polling day. The elections are being monitored by 150 international observers from SADC, the Commonwealth and the European Union, under the overall coordination of the UN.

For further information, please contact Sebastian Levine, UNDP Lesotho, or Cassandra Waldon, UNDP Communications Office.

©Copyright 2002, United Nations Development Programme

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