The world’s media spoke with one voice on Friday (20 September 2013) as they reported on Swaziland’s nondemocratic election.
Major news organisations including the Associated Press, AFP, BBC and al-Jazeera all reported that the elections for 55 members of the Swazi House of Assembly was irrelevant because King Mswati III, who rules his kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, will keep all the power for himself.
The BBC reported, ‘Voters in Swaziland are choosing a new parliament, even though political parties cannot take part and the king retains absolute power.’
The AFP news agency said the election was, ‘dismissed by critics as a rubber stamp for King Mswati III's absolute rule’.
AFP quoted a recently-released report from Freedom House, a human rights group, saying, ‘Although the Swazi government boasts trappings of a modern state. The monarch, King Mswati III, chooses and controls all significant office bearers. These must obey his commands at all times.’
Al-jazeera TV reported, ‘Mswati holds ultimate sway over the government: he can veto new laws, dissolve parliament and may not be sued or charged.’
The Dow Jones agency called it a ‘predetermined election’. It said, ‘Voters in Africa's last remaining absolute monarchy go to the polls to elect a new parliament Friday, and the outcome is all but assured to buttress the reigning king’s rule.’
The Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network, a civil society group, which described the polls as a ploy to delay genuine democracy.
‘There is no political change we can expect as a result of these elections,’ Dr. Collins Magalasi, general secretary of the network, told AP. ‘The traditional system in place supports the king.’
Closer to home, the media in South Africa, Swaziland’s closest neighbour and political and economic ally, also highlighted the non-democratic nature of the election.
Business Day reported, ‘While the Swazi system of Tinkhundla allows for political parties, candidates for parliament are allowed to stand for election only in an individual capacity and are banned from campaigning. Rising pro-democracy voices are being heard on the sideline but that is where they will remain for now, as the nonparty elections will not change King Mswati’s position as ruler.’
The Independent group of newspapers in South Africa reported, ‘Africa’s only unelected national leader, King Mswati III, will remain firmly in charge whatever the outcome of Friday’s parliamentary elections.’
The Mail and Guardian, from Johannesburg, reported, ‘Regardless of who gets into Parliament, King Mswati III – who inherited the throne from his father, King Sobhuza II, in 1986 – holds all the power.’
The international media are unavailable to most Swazi people who are too poor to have access to them via the Internet. They are forced to rely on local media where broadcast news is under state control and one of the kingdom’s only two newspaper groups is in effect owned by the king.
An editorial in the Swazi Observer, the king’s newspaper published on the eve of the election, said, ‘Tomorrow presents us, Swazis, with an opportunity to put our unique democracy into full motion.’
The newspaper which is widely regarded as a propaganda sheet for the monarchy claimed, ‘Tomorrow ushers in that whole new era of a new government being formed - the promise of a better Swaziland for all.’
The Observer also said, ‘The eyes of the international community [will be] firmly fixed on us.’
In that, the newspaper was correct.