With a population over 1.9 million, 916,230 individuals were registered to vote in the 2012 parliamentary elections held on May 26th.[i] The elections, originally scheduled for February, came amidst the creation of a new party, the Democratic Congress (DC).
The DC was formed when a power struggle emerged within the Lesotho Congress for Democracy and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili made a decision to brake away and create his own party.[ii] It was announced on the 29th of May that the newly formed Democratic Congress had gained the majority of the constituency seats, but needed did not gain a majority of the seats when the second round of seats were calculated on proportional representation.[iii] With these results and the only possibility to establish a coalition with the opposition, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili decided to resign. As of May 31st, five opposition parties will form a coalition and a new prime minister will be sworn in within the next 14 days.[iv]
Status of Women
Lesotho has a dual legal system comprised of a customary and common law. According to the constitution of Lesotho, women are equal to men. However, in practice women are often at a disadvantage due to customary laws. Lesotho is a highly patriarchal society and women are often only allowed to participate in different sectors of society, politics in particular, if the prominent male in their household allows it.[v] In fact, when gender parity laws were mandated in local government for the first time in 2005, men from all over the country boycotted the elections. To take it even further, the quota was challenged in the High Court by a rural farmer claiming that his rights were being denied.[vi] The farmer, Molefi Tsepe, lost the appeal when the High Court dismissed his appeal and upheld the gender quotas.
Lesotho currently has no gender parity clause at the parliamentary level. The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) has an internal policy that aims to increase representation not only within their party, but in parliament as well.[vii] Furthermore, the LCD has a self-initiated gender parity clause, which ensures that 30% of its members are women.[viii] There is a branch of the LCD known as the women’s league that aims to promote women’s rights and honor women who have broken barriers in the male dominated society. The party has enough power to make former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili review inheritance law in relation to the girl child.[ix] In the coming weeks, as coalitions are formed and a new prime minister is announced, we should have a better understanding of the role women have to play in the newly formed government.
With the prospect of political uncertainty looming and past electoral violence, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu brokered a pledge between the parties to maintain peace by respecting the election results.[x] The African Union, the Southern African Development Community, and the Commonwealth provided observer missions to ensure a fair election.[xi] Overall, the elections seemed free and fair with minimal violence. The participation of women remains to be determined after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili steps down after 14 years in power.