opinionBy Richard Rooney
King Mswati III misled his subjects when he told them this year's national election was an opportunity for them to shape the kingdom's future.
King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, said in a speech at the opening of the Swazi Parliament on Friday (15 February 2013), 'Elections are a vital tool through which citizens exercise the right to be heard and freely choose their own representatives in the government of the country.'
In fact, the people of Swaziland do not get a chance to elect a government because all political parties are banned. The present Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini was not elected by the people, but directly appointed by the king.
This was also the case with all the previous prime ministers of Swaziland since 1973 when the king's father Sobhuza II abolished the parliament that was in place since independence in 1968 and began to rule by decree.
Most cabinet ministers, including Majozi Sithole, the Swazi Finance Minister for more than 10 years and the man who has overseen a decade of economic ruin in the kingdom, are not elected by the people, but appointed by the king. Even if the Swazi voters wanted to get rid of their government, they have no way of doing so legally.
In his speech the king went on to tell his subjects, 'This year will mark yet another opportunity for every eligible Swazi to meaningfully and dutifully go to the polls so as to be part of shaping the political and socio-economic dispensation of the Kingdom of eswatini [Swaziland].'
But, the election is not meaningful. There are two chambers of parliament, the House of Assembly and the Senate. Of the 65 members of the House, 10 are chosen by King Mswati and 55 are elected by the people. In the Senate, King Mswati chooses 20 of the 30 places. The other 10 are chosen by members of the House of Assembly. None are elected by the people.
Despite the claims that ordinary Swazi have representation in parliament, King Mswati is in complete control of his kingdom. Last August, at the Sibaya People's Parliament (where people turn up at a cattle byre and voice their opinions on topics of concern to them) speakers overwhelmingly called on the government to resign, citing its inability to control an economy spiralling out of control as a major reason.
In October 2012, the House of Assembly passed a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister and cabinet. In such circumstances the constitution requires the monarch to sack the government (he has no discretion in the matter), but King Mswati ignored this and put pressure on the House to re-run the vote, this time ensuring that it did not have the required majority to pass. Members of the House did as they were told and the government continued in office.
Elections are held every five years in Swaziland. At the last vote in 2008, the Commonwealth Election Team, which has global experience monitoring national elections, declared that the voting was so badly flawed Swaziland needed to rewrite its constitution, if it ever wanted to 'ensure that Swaziland's commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal'.
In a report on the elections it said, 'It is widely accepted internationally that democracy includes the right of individuals to associate with and support the political party of their choice.'
It added, 'Yet in practice this right currently does not exist."
The European Union declined even to send a delegation to monitor the election, declaring that it could not be free and fair if political parties were banned. In 2008 Peter Beck Christiansen, the EU Ambassador to Swaziland, told a press conference there were, 'shortcomings in the kingdom's democracy'.
Prodemocracy advocates have called for a boycott of this year's election. The People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the best-known of the banned political parties, has called on international election observers to snub invitations to monitor the election.
Mario Masuku, President of PUDEMO, told Voice of America radio earlier this month, 'We are calling on countries not to respect the outcome of these elections and we want the international poll observers to boycott the election because no election shall be free in the absence of political parties.'
King Mswati has yet to set the date of the election.