Electoral constituencies to be slashed: NRA

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. . . PR seats to be increased to accommodate women, disabled and other disadvantaged groups

Pascalinah Kabi

THE National Reforms Authority (NRA) says it is working on constitutional amendments that will see the number of electoral constituencies slashed from 80 to 60.

Proportional Representation (PR) seats in parliament will then be increased from the current 40 to 60 to accommodate more women and provide for legislators representing disabled persons and other disadvantaged groups, the NRA said.

Addressing the media this week, NRA chairperson, Pelele Letsoela, said the 2019 second plenary session of the national stakeholders’ dialogue had mandated the NRA to ensure that women and other disadvantaged groups were well represented in the National Assembly.

He said this could only be achieved by reducing the number of constituencies from 80 to 60 and increasing the PR seats from 40 to 60. He said the new PR seats would then be given to the disadvantaged groups to ensure they are well represented in parliament.

“Plenary II mandated the NRA to ensure that disadvantaged groups such as women, people living with disabilities and the youth are well represented in parliament,” Mr Letsoela said.

“The NRA believes the only way it can deliver on this mandate is to introduce constitutional amendments to reduce the number of constituencies from 80 to 60. The number of PR seats will then be increased so that these disadvantaged groups can easily be represented in parliament,” Mr Letsoela said, adding they will next month introduce the relevant constitutional amendments to parliament to achieve this.

He said increasing women’s representation to at least 30 percent of the MPs was long overdue as this had been agreed more than 20 years ago by SADC nations. He said the SADC countries’ ultimate goal was to ensure 50-50 representation in parliament.

Back in 1997, Lesotho joined other SADC countries in committing to ensuring the equal representation of women and men in the decision-making positions of member states and SADC structures at all levels by 2015. They also committed to achieving at least 30 percent representation of women in parliament by 2005.

But 24 years since that commitment was made, Lesotho is nowhere near meeting the 30 percent benchmark on women’s representation in parliament.

Instead, Gender Links Lesotho revealed that after the last elections in June 2017, only 27 out of the 120 seats were held by women as compared to 2015 when women held 30 seats.

Commenting on the proposed constitutional amendments, Mr Letsoela said “if we have 60 first-past-the-post seats and 60 PR seats, we will finally be able to achieve the 30 percent women representation in parliament”.

He said NRA would next month start working on constitutional amendments and subsequent legislation to provide for the reduction of constituencies and their delimitation in terms of the envisaged laws to enable greater representation of women and other disadvantaged groups.

“We are therefore asking the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to walk shoulder to shoulder with NRA on this issue (of the constitutional amendments),” Mr Letsoela said.

The delimitation of constituencies under the current laws is already proving to be a hot potato with the Democratic Congress (DC) and its congress allies threatening court action if the IEC goes ahead with plans to delineate constituencies before next year’s elections.

Although the IEC is constitutionally mandated to delineate constituencies, the congress parties want the electoral body to leave the exercise in the hands of the NRA which is currently seized with the implementation of the multi-sector reforms.

The parties also argue the delimitation exercise should not proceed on the basis of the last census which was held in 2016 as they say it is now outdated.

They further argue that parliament had agreed that the exercise should be deferred and next year’s general elections should be held under the existing constituencies.

The congress parties’ position on the delimitation exercise is at odds with that of the main governing All Basotho Convention (ABC) and its allies who support the preliminary delimitation exercise which was conducted in 2018.

The preliminary exercise was conducted under the previous commissioners, Mahapela Lehohla, ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Makase Nyaphisi whose tenure expired in January 2019.

Their successors, Mphasa Mokhochane, Karabo Mokobocho and Tšoeu Petlane, were appointed in November 2020.

The next step would have been the issuance of a gazette inviting the parties and the public to comment on the proposed new constituencies.

This was belatedly done on 24 September 2021 when the IEC’s acting Director of Elections, Lehlohonolo Suping, issued the gazette inviting the political parties to make representations on the proposed constituencies. The IEC’s proposal reduced the number or rural constituencies and created more urban ones because of migration. The congress parties fear they will lose because they consider the rural constituencies their strongholds.

Last week, the IEC invited the political parties to a closed meeting over the proposed new constituencies and the long overdue by-elections.

However, the meeting degenerated into a slanging match as tempers flared over the IEC’s plans to proceed with the delimitation of constituencies.

Asked about the controversy, Mr Letsoela said they were not taking sides on the matter. He said there were some problems which had to be addressed through constitutional amendments to enable the delimitation exercise to continue because they wanted the constituencies reduced to 60 from the current 80.

“We think it prudent that Section 67 of the constitution which speaks to the delimitation of constituencies be amended because as it has some controversies. For example, it says the IEC must depend on the census in order to undertake the delimitation exercise. But some people who vote in the Berea constituency, for example, are captured in the census as Maseru inhabitants. That issue has to be addressed because we think the IEC is using wrong figures.

“We are not supporting anyone here but we just want the country to work towards the delimitation of constituencies,” Mr Letsoela said.

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