Pre-Elections Representational Event Remarks by Ambassador Maria Brewer
Please allow me to pay my respects to:
His Majesty King Letsie III,
The Acting Prime Minister, Honorable Mathibeli Mokhothu,
Honorable President of the Senate,
Honorable Speaker of the National Assembly,
His Lordship the Chief Justice,
Members of the Council of State,
Their Excellencies, Heads of Diplomatic Missions, and International Organizations,
Honorable Leaders of Political Parties,
Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission,
Representatives of the Civil Society Organizations,
Members of the Media,
All protocols observed.
Lumelang and good evening bo ‘M’e le bo Ntate.
I welcome you all, our friends and colleagues, in joining us today.We are less than three weeks away from national elections here in Lesotho. These elections are important, not only because they are the first generally scheduled elections in nearly 10 years, but – like all democratic elections – because they are one of the primary ways for the people of Lesotho to express their will.
For these elections to truly be effective, they must be free, fair, and transparent. For elections to be free, all those eligible to vote must be able to do so, free from fear or intimidation. For elections to be fair, all registered political parties must have a right to take part in the elections, campaign for voter support, and hold meetings and rallies. For elections to be transparent, all stakeholders – political parties, election observers, and voters alike – must be able to verify that the elections were conducted according to official procedures.
Elections take time to become free, fair, and transparent. It takes effort – democracy takes great effort – to bring elections to fruition. The reason why I am standing here – and why I have invited you all here – is because we all have a critical role to play in ensuring the integrity of the upcoming elections. I have spoken to many of you in private about these matters, but it is important I say it in public, for all to hear.
To those of you seeking office or representing a political party, you have an obligation to refrain from inflammatory speech and from supporting acts of intimidation. Whenever such speech or acts of violence are committed by your supporters or in your name, you must speak out against it. Violence has no place in a democratic election.
To those entrusted to lead, let us remember the Sesotho proverb: Morena ke morena ka batho – a leader is a leader through the people.
To the media, you play an important role, helping to expose corruption and providing accurate, balanced, and timely information that is of interest and relevance to the public. Please keep reporting, and ensure that your reporting is open and honest.
To the representatives of civil society, you play a critical role by educating the people of Lesotho about their rights and obligations as democratic citizens, ensuring that the people can advocate for their interests, and encouraging them to actively engage in the electoral process. Do not underestimate the key role your efforts play in building and strengthening democracy.
To my fellow diplomats: we, too, have an important part to play. We must denounce abuses when we see them, and publicly stand with those working to ensure the integrity of Lesotho’s electoral process.
Only when all stakeholders take their responsibilities seriously can there be public trust in the process with credible results.
Some may question why the United States concerns ourselves with other countries’ elections. The response is simple: we care about other countries’ democratic institutions because the people care about those institutions. Recent public opinion polling reveals that almost 70 percent of Africans surveyed prefer democracy to any other form of government. Here in Lesotho, polling also shows that almost 90 percent of Basotho believe the government should respect the country’s citizens and be responsive to them. The United States shares these values, recognizing that – when done well – elections are one of the primary ways the people express their collective will. We are committed to ensuring their will is heard.
The United States’ commitment to and partnership with Lesotho is longstanding and steadfast, and not solely limited to our support for the upcoming elections. The strength of our partnership is demonstrated by the thousands of Peace Corps volunteers who have served in Lesotho since the first volunteers arrived almost 55 years ago. And by the more than 600 million U.S. dollar investment in the past and current Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts. It is demonstrated by the more than 15-year partnership under the PEPFAR program, which has helped Lesotho achieve HIV/AIDS epidemic control. And by the opportunity for economic growth and rural development through the African Growth and Opportunity Act – AGOA – under which Lesotho has become the third largest exporter of textiles and garments to the United States. The more than 500 students from Lesotho who have participated in U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, such as the Young African Leaders Initiative are evidence of our enduring partnership.
In each of these areas – and many others – the United States stands side-by-side with Lesotho. We will continue to support each other – as partners and friends – as we seek a brighter future, not only for the people of our countries, but for the world. Once again, the U.S. Embassy in Lesotho wishes everyone an elections cycle that is free, fair, and transparent, and free of violence.
Thank you. Khotso, Pula, Nala.