Law to boost women’s seats in local councils

MASERU — Local Government Minister Ponts’o Sekatle this week proposed amendments to the Local Government Elections Act (1998) and the Local Government Act (1997) to facilitate for women to  get a third of the seats in community councils.  

The amendments will come into effect in the next local government elections that are yet to be scheduled after they were postponed in April to make way for changes to the law.

In January opposition party leaders threatened to boycott the local government elections that were due in May saying they were not happy with plans to reserve special seats for female candidates.

They said the laws gave the local government minister discretionary powers to decide which council seats must be reserved for female candidates.  

This they said was discriminatory because it did not allow communities to elect their own council representatives on merit.

On February 9 the local government ministry backed down and agreed to amend the law.

The new amendments to the two laws will make it possible for women to get into local councils through affirmative action.

It will make it mandatory for every local council to have about 33 percent female councillors.

But this provision will only be imposed if the normal elections fail to ensure the 33 percent quota for female candidates.

Before the council election each political party will have its own list of female candidates that qualify for the concessionary seats.

“In accordance with the Local Government Act 1997, one third special seats for women candidates drawn from party lists shall be determined in proportion to the total number of votes attained by each political party from electoral divisions in a council as set out in subsections (1B), (1C), (1D), (1E), (1F) and (1G),” the new amendment to the Local Government Act 1997 says.

According to the new provisions a “political party intending to contest a local government election shall submit a list of names for each council to the Returning Officers during nomination period.”

But for a party to qualify for the special seats, it shall field candidates in at least one third of the electoral divisions contested in a council.”

According to the amendment the candidates shall be arranged in the order of preference “and remain closed until the next election”.

Once the Bill is enacted into law voters will cast two ballot papers, one for the candidate contesting at local council level and the other for the party.

“There shall be two ballot papers issued to polling stations. One ballot will be for the electoral division candidate while the other one will be for the party,” the Bill says.

“Each voter shall be entitled to cast two votes, one for the candidate in the electoral division and one for the party.”                       

The former proposes a procedure to allow for the introduction of one third of special seats for women within a local council.

The rationale behind the Local Government (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2010 is also to strengthen the inclusion and participation of women in decision making.

The current position is that the Local Government Act 1997 provides for composition of councils “comprising of elected members and nominated members”.

“The Act also provides for delineation of the outer boundaries of the councils without stipulating further the demarcation of electoral divisions within the council area,” reads the statement of objects and reasons.

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