Gender Links today welcomed the peaceful transition to a coalition government following the recent elections in Lesotho, but expressed disappointment that the elections witnessed no major advances for women.
An analysis of the election results (see Annex A) shows that women will occupy 31 out of 120 seats in the new parliament (26%) compared to 25% following the 2007 elections. The 2012 elections represented Lesotho's last opportunity to achieve gender parity in parliament ahead of the 2015 deadline set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development.
"The elections just passed are a testament to the strengthening of democracy in Lesotho," noted GL CEO Colleen Lowe Morna. "We applaud the dignity with which power has been handed over by the ruling party to an opposition coalition. We also applaud the creative way in which Lesotho maintained a quota for women in the local elections in 2011. Sadly, this same resolve did not carry through to the national elections."
Following the 26 May elections that have been hailed by independent observers as peaceful, free and fair, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosilili accepted defeat after his Democratic Congress (DC) party failed to get enough seats to form a government. The All Basotho Convention Party of Tom Thabane has formed a coalition government with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LDC) and Basotho National Party (BNP).
In the 2006 local elections Lesotho made history by becoming the only country in SADC in which women constituted more than 50% of a decision-making structure. This came about as a result of the electoral law reserving 30% of seats in the election held on a constituency basis for women only. Women also won 28% of the openly contested seats, giving a total of 58%.
But opposition to the quota led to the Lesotho Independent Electoral Commission visiting Tanzania and amending the quota. In the 2011 local elections,women and men competed in the constituency seats, but an additional 30% of seats were allocated to women on a PR basis. This resulted in women's representation dropping to 49% but with far less opposition to the quota, and still leaving Lesotho at the country with the highest representation of women in local government (see www.)
The national elections are held on a mixed constituency (80 seats) and PR (40) seats basis. Women won 13 (or only 16%) of the constituency seats - down from 19% in the 2007 elections. The one change in the national electoral law that saved the day is the "zebra" (or one woman, one man system) on the PR list. This resulted in 18 out of 40 women getting in on PR seats (45%, up from 38% last year). The overall result is 26% women (see Annex A).
The result reflects a global fact - that women fare much better in PR than constituency elections, especially when this is combined with a quota. Although Lesotho has now missed the 50% mark for women's representation in parliament by 2015, the results show that with a few more adjustments to the national electoral law paritycan be achieved. Two options are either to increase the number of PR seats, or to reserve the PR seats for women only as happens at the local level.