By: Naomi Ndifon
On 7 October 2022, the Kingdom of Lesotho held its tenth National Assembly elections to choose the members of parliament. The election outcome surprised many onlookers. A newly formed populist party, the 6-month-old Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), beat 48 other parties, winning 56 out of 120 parliamentary seats and displacing the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC). The Revolution for Prosperity is led by its founder, Ntsokoane Samuel Matekane, Lesotho’s richest man. Observers from the United Kingdom, African Union and European Union noted that election day processes were peaceful, inclusive, transparent and well-organized.
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with the King as the Head of State and the Prime Minister as the Head of Government and Armed Forces. Under its 1993 Constitution, the King appoints the leader of the majority political party or coalition of political parties as Prime Minister. Lesotho has a bicameral parliament consisting of a 120-seat directly elected National Assembly and a 33-seat appointed Senate. Of 33 Senate members, the King appoints 11, and principal chiefs make up the remaining 22 members.
The Kingdom of Lesotho has established and implemented legislative steps to boost women’s political representation. Section 47 of the National Assembly Election Amendment Act of 2011 introduced the rule for the proportional contest. According to Section 47, a political party shall ‘arrange the candidates in order of preference from top to bottom, with a female or male candidate immediately followed by a candidate of the opposite sex; and include equal numbers of women and men.’ On the sub-national level, the 1998 Local Government Elections Act (amended in 2011) also states that ‘30% of the total number of seats in municipal, urban and community councils are reserved for women and are distributed proportionally among the parties.’ Although the 1993 Constitution does not contain provisions, especially on women’s political participation, it guarantees equality and the right to stand for elections and vote.
Women’s Political Participation
During the 2022 elections, 876 (33%) of the 2,560 candidates running for Parliamentary seats were women, representing an increase from the previous 2017 elections when 30.2% were women. In 2017, out of 33 seats in the Senate and 120 seats in the National Assembly, 7 (21.21%) and 28 (23.3%) were held by women, respectively. Following the 2022 elections, women's representation increased slightly, occupying 8 out of the 33 (24.24%) seats in the Senate and 32 out of 121 (26.45%) seats in the National Assembly.
The elections also recorded many gains for women. Notably, Nthomeng Majara, previously the first female Chief Justice of Lesotho’s Court of Appeal, was sworn in as the first female Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. She has served as Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal in Lesotho, as High Court judge of Namibia and as a researcher with the Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust. Tsepang Tsita-Mosena was appointed as the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, and Momonaheng Mokitimi, President of the Senate, was re-elected for a second term in the 11th parliament. Mokitimi had served in parliament in different capacities since 1999 and made history as the first female President of the Senate of the Kingdom of Lesotho when she was elected in 2012. Finally, Adelaide Retselisitsoe Matlanyane was appointed Minister of Finance, the second woman in the country’s history to hold this position.
Lesotho has made several commitments to gender equality and women's rights. In 2003, the government of Lesotho adopted its Gender and Development policy which led to the establishment of the National Assembly and local government electoral quotas and other acts to protect women's rights. While Lesotho's Constitution guarantees equality between men and women, several existing laws contradict these provisions. Customary practice and law restrict women's property, inheritance, marriage and divorce rights. Women's rights are limited in areas such as property and inheritance, including chieftainships, which men can only inherit. Gender-based violence also remains a serious threat to women in Lesotho. One in three women in Lesotho had experienced physical or sexual violence, often at the hands of their partners. Intimate partners were responsible for at least 47% of all female homicides.
Following the conclusion of the 2022 Lesotho General Elections, the newly founded Revolution for Prosperity party, led by the country's richest man, Ntsokoane Samuel Matekane, won 56 of the 120 parliamentary seats. As the leader of the largest political party would make Matekane the next Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho. Women's political participation at the legislative level has been considerably low, with only a slight increase following the 2022 elections. Out of the now-121 seats in Lesotho's National Assembly, women hold 32 (26%)seats and 8 out of 33 (24%) in the Senate. Although recent gains in women's political participation and representation are notable, female political and civil society leaders continue to work on addressing challenges and achieving gender equality.
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union