PR seats for women not the best way of achieving gender parity: analysts
LESOTHO is nowhere near fulfilling its 24-year-old pledge to ensure that half of all legislators and other posts in other state institutions are occupied by women.
The country made the pledge in 1997 along with other southern African countries in what has come to be known as the SADC Protocol on Gender. While other SADC countries have fared no better, it is even more disturbing that Lesotho is not even close to reaching the 30 percent quota for female MPs which ought to have been implemented by 2005 latest.
The last elections held in 2017 showed that women representation had actually decreased from 25 percent to 23 percent.
Faced with the ever-growing choruses of criticism over the failure to empower women, the National Reforms Authority (NRA) has come up with a novel proposal to push through 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 thus meet the 30 percent threshold.
Addressing the media last 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.
According to his way of thinking, this can only be achieved by reducing the number of constituencies from 80 to 60 and increasing the PR seats from 40 to 60. The new PR seats will then be given to women and other disadvantaged groups to ensure they are well represented in parliament, he said.
But analysts are sceptical of the NRA proposals.
While conceding that it is time Lesotho and other SADC countries made good on their promises, the analysts do not believe that bringing women into parliament through the PR system is the best way to go.
If anything, Thlohang Letsie, a political science lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) believes this will worsen the instability that Lesotho has been experiencing since the PR system was adopted in 1998.
“Increasing PR seats will not solve the problem of under-representation of women. It will not enhance democracy. Rather, it will cause more problems. The PR system will not lead us anywhere. It will only benefit the small parties that are pushing their own personal interests of gaining access to government resources.
“In fact, the NRA is mainly made up of people who are members of small parties so they are pushing their personal interests instead of the interests of Basotho. Basotho have already shown that they do not have any trust in the PR system during the stakeholder consultations that were done,” Dr Letsie said.
Another analyst Sello Sello concurred, saying “instead of actually empowering women, increasing women’s representation via the PR system only serves to buttress the stereotypes that women are not electable and they can only be brought into the political fold courtesy of the generosity and goodwill of male-led political parties.
“Far from empowering women, the PR representation actually disempowers them and renders them stooges that will be beholden to their parties for pushing them higher up the PR lists to enable them to get into parliament. I think women would better off if the laws were amended to force political parties to field more female candidates. If they are elected then they will derive their power and legitimacy from the people. But the PR system means they have no legitimacy from the electorate and as such they will not be taken seriously.
“Besides, I don’t understand why the NRA is pushing these amendments to increase the PR seats when last year’s survey findings by the Afrobarometer research institute revealed that most Basotho are opposed to the system on the grounds that it has increased instability in the country,” Mr Sello said.
It appears that the PR system is generally associated with instability everywhere. According to https://www.tgs.kent.sch.uk/bbcnews, “the coalition governments that the PR system often produces can be weak and indecisive due to the different parties each trying to get their own way”.
This has been evident in Lesotho’s successive short-lived coalition governments which have failed to last the distance due to ideological and policy differences.
Both Dr Letsie and Mr Sello could also be right as the introduction of the PR system has coincided with greater political instability in the country.
The PR system has helped revive the fortunes of unpopular political parties such as the once mighty Basotho National Party (BNP) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).
In the last elections in 2017, the BNP did not win a single seat. Its five seats are all courtesy of the PR system. The party has used the seats to help bring down the previous Thomas Thabane-led government and to bargain for cabinet posts in the current Moeketsi Majoro-led administration.
BNP leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, has been rewarded with the post of Small Business Development, cooperatives and Marketing minister.
The LCD only won one seat in the last elections but the PR system enabled it to gain another 10 seats. It has exploited these seats to pass itself as a formidable opposition party which has to be consulted at every step of the reforms process. In fact, the reforms process was delayed for more than a year when its leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, was in exile in South Africa from 2017 to 2018.
It had to take a SADC brokered agreement between the government and opposition to get him to return to the country to participate in the reforms process. With its one seat, Mr Metsing would have certainly not had the clout to stall the reforms process had it not been for the PR system.
It also appears that Dr Letsie has a valid point in arguing that the NRA is composed of leaders of small parties who are driving their own agendas instead of effectively spearheading the reforms process.
Mr Letsoela leads the little-known Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP) while NRA deputy chairperson Liteboho Kompi is a member of the Movement for Economic Change (MEC). The MEC only won one elected seat in parliament and gained another five through the PR system.
Another analyst and women’s rights activist, Mpho Litima, said, “reserving PR seats for women is not a panacea for the underrepresentation of women.
“The empowerment of women has to be a gradual process starting at the grassroots levels in society. Lesotho is a patriarchal society and there is therefore a need to address these cultural aspects and teach people about the importance of having female politicians.
“The political parties must then push for more females in leadership. The laws should then be amended to create a minimum threshold for female officials in the leadership structures of political parties.
“The parties should be compelled to groom women for influential positions rather than appoint them for PR seats. Women should earn these positions and that way they will earn respect,” Ms Litima said.
However, youth activist, Motsamai Mokotjo, supports the NRA proposals.
“The NRA proposals might have some loopholes but the important thing is that we have started the process of increasing the number of women in the National Assembly. We had to start somewhere and this is where we are starting from. Females need to be heard and their views are essential for running the country. The same applies to persons with disabilities and these also need to be given a platform to articulate their concerns,” Mr Mokotjo said.
The PR system may well be a starting point for increasing women’s representation in parliament. But as pointed out by other analysts, it is only so because the NRA has ignored the general sentiment against the PR system. It is only a starting point because the NRA has chosen not to push for amendments to compel political parties to field more women candidates in elections.