18 February 2013

Swaziland: King Wrong on Election Support

King Mwsati of Swaziland seriously misled his subjects and the international community when he said that the Pan African Parliament (PAP) observers at the national election in the kingdom in 2008 had said, 'Africa has a lot to learn from the Swazi electoral system.'

In fact nowhere in the official PAP report is anything remotely like that stated.

Instead, it listed seven 'challenges' Swaziland faced in its elections, putting the banning of political parties in the kingdom top of its concerns. This did not meet 'regional and international standards and principles for democratic elections', PAP reported.

King Mwsati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

The king made the comments in his speech opening the Swazi Parliament on Friday (15 February 2013). He said, 'It was encouraging to note from the Pan African Parliament observer mission, which went on to state in its mission report, that Africa has a lot to learn from the Swazi electoral system.'

Rather than praise Swaziland in the way King Mswati claimed, the PAP mission recorded seven 'challenges' Swaziland faced in the 2008 election.

(i) Political parties were not permitted to contest in the elections. This restriction infringes on the rights of those citizens wishing to participate in elections through political parties and does not meet regional and international standards and principles for democratic elections.

(ii) There is no provision for campaign funding for candidates. This results in an unfair financial advantage of wealthier candidates over poorer candidates especially women.

(iii) There was little if any civic education for voters by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

(iv) We recognise measures taken by government to ensure 30 percent representation of women in the parliament. However we note that cultural norms militate against women's participation in the elections.

(v) In some constituencies voting did not take place as court cases on the primary elections were still pending.

(vi) The recording of the voter's registration number on the ballot paper counterfoil has the potential to compromise the secrecy of the vote.

(vii) Counting of votes takes place at constituency centres on the day after voting. Ballot boxes are stored overnight which may create room for manipulation.

The report went on the make the following recommendations:

(i) Election stakeholders including the EBC and civil society organisations should conduct voter education on elections.

(ii) The people of Swaziland should resolve through voting in a national referendum, the issue of political party participation in elections.

(iii) More measures should be put in place to empower women to compete in elections.

(iv) Campaign funding should be provided in order to encourage and promote the participation of all worthy candidates in the election.

(v) Recording the voter's registration number on the ballot paper counterfoil should be stopped in order to guarantee secrecy of the ballot.

(vi) The electoral authorities should consider the use of translucent ballot boxes in order to enhance transparency.

(vii) Counting of votes should take place at the polling stations immediately after voting in order to enhance transparency and credibility of the results and expedite the announcement of the election results.

There is a concerted effort by King Mswati and his followers to misrepresent the election this year in Swaziland as democratic, when it is not.

In his speech to parliament the king also claimed that the national election was an opportunity for his subjects to shape the kingdom's future. 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.

King Mswati is in complete control of his kingdom. 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.

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