OBSERVERS of Lesotho’s recently-held National Assembly elections say the country needs to address the increasing underrepresentation of women in politics which was highlighted by the fact that only 30.2 percent of the candidates were female.
While commending the country for holding peaceful elections, the observers bemoaned the fact that there were only 416 women among the 1 374 candidates vying for parliamentary seats.
Basotho went to the polls last Saturday to elect members of the 10th parliament after the collapse of outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government through a 1 March 2017 no-confidence vote in the National Assembly.
The polls resulted in a hung parliament, with former premier and All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane yesterday forming a coalition government with the Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho.
Lesotho’s gender equality policy requires at least 30 percent of women in parliament and other government structures such as local government councils. However, given that many fell by the wayside during the party primary and general elections, the quota was not achieved.
In their preliminary statements issued on Monday after the polls, the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM), Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), Commonwealth Observer Group and Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries (ECF-SADC) noted that women were underrepresented in Lesotho’s politics.
The AUEOM, which was led by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, lauded Lesotho for holding “largely peaceful, free, fair, transparent and competently managed elections”.
The mission, which consisted of 32 observers, also called for a “concerted, speedy and inclusive reform process” for the sustenance of political stability in Lesotho.
The AUEOM, however, expressed concern over the low number of female contestants, attributing it to the country’s patriarchal society.
“Out of 1 374 candidates vying for parliamentary seats, 416 (30.2%) were women, including 15 independent candidates. This can be attributed to a patriarchal culture and inadequate political will of political parties to facilitate the participation of women,” the mission noted.
The sentiment was echoed by IESA Head of Mission and former Zambian president Rupiah Banda who stated that women continued to be a minority among the constituency candidates despite representing the majority of voters.
“Of the constituency candidates in these elections, only 30 percent were women, which does not represent an improvement on 2015,” Mr Banda said.
He however commended the fact that two-thirds of all polling officials, party agents and citizen observers at polling stations were women.
For her part, Commonwealth Head of Mission Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba said: “We note, however, and commend the active participation of large numbers of women in the electoral process, making up a significant proportion of voting station staff, party agents and voters.
“In addition, many police assistants were young women, who supported the management of queues, and assisted elderly or disabled voters.”
She also noted that many voting stations were not easily accessible to persons with disabilities, acknowledging the availability of tactile voting devices for visually-impaired voters in all the voting stations visited by the mission.
Addressing the same briefing, ECF-SADC said participation of women, youth and other vulnerable groups at all levels of decision making, including intra-party structures should be encouraged.