Thursday, June 21, 2018


King Mswati III the absolute monarch of Swaziland / Eswatini dissolved parliament on Wednesday (20 June 2018) ahead of the national election amid doubts that the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) was competent to organise it.

Earlier in the week the King ordered voter registration to be extended for 11 days beyond the deadline even though the EBC claimed 87 percent of people entitled to vote had registered.

The same thing happened at the previous election in 2013 when registration was extended by a week

In both cases the EBC was heavily criticised for its organisation. Registration kits were late arriving, personnel were poorly trained, equipment failed, planning in general was poor and there were disputes over constituency boundaries. In 2013 problems continued throughout the primary and secondary elections and after results were announced.

During the present registration period the EBC issued contradictory figures for the numbers registering. Eventually, it reported 526,073 out of what it said was a possible 600,000 voters had registered. In 2013 when registration closed it said 411,084 had registered later revising that figure to 414,704.

The EBC did not issue its formal report on the 2013 election until 2017. It still has not publicly revealed the full results of that election. It named the winners in each constituency but the votes given to losing candidates has not been published.

In the report the EBC recognised some of its own shortcomings and called for a five-year strategy and action plan be developed ‘to guide the Commission from one election to another to ensure a successful and well prepared election’. The report said, ‘A research and evaluation department needs to be established for the Commission to make informed decisions on elections. There is an urgent need for the restructuring of the Commission’s Secretariat to meet international standards.’

It added, ‘Education and training of election staff is a major priority.’ It also called for more funding and said, ‘communication internally and externally within the organization needs to be improved’.

The problems at the EBC were first identified when it was formed in 2008. The Commission consists of five members and its chair is Chief Gija Dlamini, a half-brother of King Mswati. It is supported by a secretariat of 21 people. The commissioners according to the Swaziland Constitution needed the qualifications of a judge of the superior courts or to be persons of ‘high moral character, proven integrity, relevant experience and demonstrable competence in the conduct of public affairs’. Chief Gija had been employed as an engineer for 20 years at the Swaziland Water Services Commission and only one of the commissioners had a legal background.

In a report on its observation of the conduct of the 2008 election the EISA (Electoral Institute of Southern Africa) made a scathing critique of the EBC and its relationship to the King. It stated, ‘Almost all the stakeholders regarded the members of the EBC as royal appointees. Stakeholders did not regard the EBC as independent and believed that the EBC operated under the instruction of the King. Stakeholders also expressed the view that the EBC was not representative of society as a whole, but was drawn exclusively from government officials or members of the aristocracy.’

EISA added, ‘Most stakeholders were of the view that the EBC was lacking in transparency and secretive in its operations. They felt that even information that should indisputably have been in the public domain, such as the election timetable, was given out piecemeal and very late in the day.’

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) said the way in which the members were selected ‘shows the executive’s complete disregard for the principles of parliamentary supremacy’.

SCCCO noted ‘with extreme concern the utter disregard for both the spirit and the nature of the Swazi constitution in the appointment of members of the EBC’. The Times Sunday in 2008 quoted SCCCO saying, ‘We will not stand idly by and watch our votes be rendered useless by a system that regards Parliament and elections as mere window-dressing to appease other states and give the impression of democracy to satisfy international donors.’ 

SCCCO challenged the legality of the EBC and lack of qualifications of members of its board in the High Court. The court on a two-to-one majority in March 2009 dismissed the case on a legal technicality and did not rule on the matter.

The election takes place on 21 September 2018. Political parties are banned from taking part and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government. International observers have stated that elections in Swaziland are not democratic.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018


King Mswati III Swaziland’s absolute monarch has extended voter registration in his kingdom for another 11 days even though the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) announced 87 percent of eligible voters had registered by the deadline on Sunday (17 June 2018).

EBC chair Chief Gija Dlamini said the King had done this following reports that there had been a high turnout on the final day. He did not disclose how many people registered on the final day. 

On the day registration ended the Sunday Observer a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati reported the EBC saying that as of 16 June 2018 ‘over 590,000 voters were registered’.

On Monday after registration closed the EBC announced that 526,073 people had registered to vote for the election in September, about 70,000 fewer than it had reported previously. The Swazi Observer, also owned by the King, reported on Tuesday the number registering was ‘unprecedented’. It said it represented 87 percent of those entitled to vote. 

At the last election in 2013, 414,704 people registered to vote according to the EBC’s election report published in 2017. This contradicted the number of 411,084 it had released at the time of registration.

The EBC said on Tuesday it could not give a date when the voters’ roll would be available for public inspection but gave no reason.

The King’s order and the EBC misrepresentation of registration numbers throws doubt over the election that is widely considered outside of Swaziland to be undemocratic.

Throughout the registration period there have been reports of incompetence, corruption and nepotism. Police are to vet all nominated candidates ahead of the vote.

There is confusion about how many people are eligible to vote in the election. When the process started on 13 May 2018 the EBC said it was 500,000, later after public scepticism about the figure’s accuracy it increased the number to 600,000. The EBC said it based its figure on the 2017 population census in Swaziland that put the number of people living in the kingdom aged 18 and over (the voting age) at 625,629. Data published by CIA Factbook based on 2017 figures puts the estimated population at 1.4 million and suggests the number of voters is between 700,000 and 800,000.

The EBC has a history of poor performance since it was inaugurated in 2008. It took four years for it to produce its official report on the last election in 2013 and it has still not published the full results. The winners in each constituency have been announced but the number of votes cast for each candidate competing have not.

When registration began this year equipment was not in place at all centres and trained election personnel were not always available and there were many reports of computer failures. A toll-free line available for people to report grievances and challenges they met at registration centres failed to work on MTN mobile phone numbers. Many people did not receive voter cards after registering, leaving them in doubt that they would be able to cast their vote.

Reports of attempted bribery were rife across the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and political parties are banned from taking part in elections. Elections in Swaziland are widely regarded as not democratic by observers outside the kingdom. The King choses the Prime Minister and government ministers and the parliament has no powers as these rest with the King. 

At Maphungwane in the Matsanjeni North Constituency football teams rejected a E10,000 (US$790) sponsorship from an aspiring member of parliament. The Swazi Observer reported (18 May 2018) that the sponsorship was in the form of prize money that would be paid at the end of the football season and after the election had been held.

The newspaper reported the clubs’ representatives questioned the timing of the sponsorship and rejected the offer. One club boss told the Observer that aspiring MPs had also tried to manipulate them in the past.

There was a report that police in Swaziland were investigating possible election corruption concerning a former government minister accused of bribing people with promises of food parcels for their votes. 

Poverty-stricken textile workers said they sold their votes for cash and chicken pieces. The Swazi Observer reported sitting members of parliament had sent their agents into factories to buy up votes in the industrial town of Matsapha. People said they were persuaded to register as residents of the surrounding areas as opposed to their chiefdoms of origin. 

Other textile workers in Nhlangano said groups of 50 or 60 of them had been given free lunches by sponsors of people keen to win seats in parliament. They also said transport costs to and from work had been paid. The Swazi Observer reported on Friday (15 June 2018) that some outgoing MPs were involved.

Residents at Mbangweni complained of nepotism when four people selected to assist in the election were from the same family. The Swazi Observer reported Inkhosatana Gelane, the acting KoNtshingila chief, saying they were ‘loyal and respectful residents’. 

Many residents in areas including Engwenyameni, Madadeni, and Lavumisa, said they would boycott the election because they were dissatisfied with how constituency boundaries had been drawn. 

Days before registration closed EBC Chair Chief Gija Dlamini told media that all persons nominated for election would be vetted by police. 

At past elections people only got to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chose the other 10. At this election there will be an additional four seats for people to vote for. It has not been announced how many members the King will choose but the Swaziland Constitution allows him to pick up to ten. 

As in previous years, none of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate will be elected by the people; the King will choose 20 and the other 10 will be chosen by members of the House of Assembly.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018


People in Swaziland / Eswatini have been misled into believing they are about to elect a government at the forthcoming national election. They are not.

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in the election and King Mswati chooses the Prime Minister and senior government ministers.

The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) made the false claim that Swazi people were about to elect a government as it announced that 526,073 people had registered to vote for the election in September. The Swazi Observer a newspaper in effect owned by the King reported on Tuesday (19 June 2018) the number was ‘unprecedented’. It said the number represented 87 percent of those entitled to vote. At the last election in 2013 411,084 people registered to vote.

The Observer quoted Mbonisi Bhembe spokesperson for the EBC saying, ‘This is true democracy at play and it is quite fascinating to realise that Emaswati [Swazis] really want to participate in the election of the government.’

The elections are held every five years. At past elections people only got to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chose the other 10. At the forthcoming election there will be an additional four seats for people to vote for. It has not been announced how many members the King will choose but the Swaziland Constitution allows him to pick up to ten.

As in previous years, none of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate will be elected by the people; the King will choose 20 and the other 10 will be chosen by members of the House of Assembly. 

The Institute for Security Studies in 2012 said elections in Swaziland could be defined as ‘organised certainty’, since they changed nothing. It went on to say, ‘The ruling regime enjoys an unchallenged monopoly over state resources, and elections have increasingly become arenas for competition over patronage and not policy. 

This view is not confined to the ISS. The 2013 election observation report of the Commonwealth Expert Team questioned the elections’ credibility because they resulted in ‘a Parliament which does not have power’, because of the ban on political parties. 

The United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a report on Swaziland in 2013 said there was no effective democracy in Swaziland. ‘The King has the power summarily to appoint and dismiss ministers, all parliamentary candidates require the approval of their chief (who is dependent on the monarch for wealth and power) and while political parties are not forbidden, they are banned from participating in elections. All candidates must run as independents.’

The European Union Election Experts Mission (EEM) in its report on the 2013 election made much of how the kingdom’s absolute monarchy undermined democracy.

In its report it stated, ‘The King has absolute power and is considered to be above the law, including the Constitution, enjoying the power to assent laws and immunity from criminal proceedings. A bill shall not become law unless the King has assented to it, meaning that the parliament is unable to pass any law which the King is in disagreement with. 

‘The King will refer back the provisions he is not in agreement with, which makes the parliament and its elected chamber, the House of Assembly, ineffective, unable to achieve the objective a parliament is created for: to be the legislative branch of the state and maintain the government under scrutiny.’

The EEM went on to say the ‘main principles for a democratic state are not in place’ in Swaziland.

Richard Rooney

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