Parties agree to freeze elections

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MASERU — Lesotho’s political leaders on Tuesday agreed to postpone the forthcoming local government elections to allow for amendments to be made to the Local Government Act 1997 and the Local Government Elections Act 1998.
The decision puts an end to weeks of bickering between the opposition and the government over the elections.
Three weeks ago opposition parties threatened to boycott the elections if the government did not amend a section of the Local Government Elections Act 1998 that allowed the local government minister to reserve some council seats for women candidates.
The opposition also wanted the Local Government Act 1997 to be amended to allow for the proper demarcation of electoral divisions.
The agreement signed by Lesotho’s 20 political parties means that the election will be postponed while parliament effects the proposed amendments.
The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and All Basotho Convention (ABC), the country’s biggest opposition party by way of parliamentary seats, also signed the memorandum of agreement.
“We are aware that there is need to amend both the Local Government Act 1997 and the Local Government Elections Act 1998 on the issues around the reservation of seats for women and the proper demarcation of electoral divisions consistent with the constitution,” said the statement released after the agreement was signed.
It said the Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship, Ponts’o Sekatle, will approach parliament to propose the extension of the term of office of the current councillors.
The statement said this will “enable the amendment of both acts and other laws, to consider affirmative action and other issues relating to the good management of local government elections in Lesotho”.
IEC Commissioner, Malefetsane Nkhahle, said the electoral commission was appreciative of the fact that all the relevant stakeholders in the dispute had reached a common understanding.
“We have reached an agreement with political leaders after agreeing on a host of issues with regard to amending the elections Act,” Nkhahle said.
“We realised there were a lot of things that needed to be straightened out. Our fear was what would happen, what the outcome would be if we overlooked those issues and went ahead with the elections as planned.”   
Among other things, Nkhahle said the 30 percent reservation of seats for women would be abolished to level the grounds for competition.
“The electoral Act will be amended for women to compete from an equal footing with their male counterparts,” Nkhahle said.
In 2004 parliament amended the Local Government Elections Act 1998 to allow the minister to reserve some seats for women.
The amendment caused a furore with the opposition labelling it “sexist” and discriminatory.
However, their attempts to have the clause struck down as unconstitutional failed after the High Court ruled that it was “unconstructive discrimination”.
In a recent interview Sekatle said the idea was never to make the clause permanent.
“We wanted to ensure that women catch up with their male counterparts in decision making positions. After the third round this provision was going to fall off,” she said.
Currently women hold 54 percent of the council seats.

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