March 10, 2005

Local elections marred by controversy

Lesotho's first local government elections since 1968, scheduled to take place at the end of April, have been marred by a huge controversy over a government ruling that a third of the 400 wards should be contested exclusively by female candidates. Opposition parties and analysts in the mountain kingdom have criticized the move. Opposition parties say the legislation was unconstitutional. "We found that this goes against the constitution of the country and we're saying that, while we support the inclusion of women in the political arena, we should find a way of doing it in a way that is not contradicting the constitution," Kgauhelo Raliapole of the Basotho African Congress said. According to the government, the move was in line with protocols of global and regional multilateral bodies on the empowerment of women. It said that Basotho women constituted 51% of the population in Lesotho and that they had been left out of the running long enough, especially in rural areas.

Analysts claim that while the Lesotho constitution does provide for positive discrimination, government conducted it the wrong way round. "The way that it has been done has a discriminatory element and I believe that, in terms of interpreting the constitution, the choice being followed by government is problematic," Dr Nqosa Mahao, a constitutional law expert, said. He stated that government should have followed a solution that would have been fair to all parties and still help it achieve its objective of increasing the representation of women in government. "For example, if the law had simply said that for every political party that will be fielding candidates it must ensure that at least one third of the candidates would be women, you would still achieve the same objective," he said. (News24, South Africa)

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