19 February 2013

Swaziland: Royals Wrong on Women at Election

Swaziland's Indlovukazi (the mother of the king) has joined a growing chorus of misinformation about the kingdom's forthcoming undemocratic national election.

She called upon all Swazi women to participate in the election and said she would be happy if they dominated top positions during the upcoming national elections. The Times of Swaziland reported her saying the active contribution of women was critical to ensure sustainable and effective development of the nation.

But, while one of the top Royals is telling women they are valued, the king's behaviour tells a different story. The Swazi Constitution states that 30 percent of the members of parliament should be women. But the king has ignored this and declined to appoint enough women to parliament.

In Swaziland's election only 55 of 65 seats in the House of Assembly are chosen by the people. King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, chooses the other 10. He also chooses 20 of the 30 seats in the Senate. The other ten seats are chosen by members of the House of Assembly. No members of the Senate are elected by the people.

If the constitution were followed there should be 32 women spread across the two houses of parliament. At the last national election in 2008 only seven of the elected 55 members of the House of Assembly were women and the king appointed a further two to the House and seven to the Senate, making a total of 16.

If the king truly believed that the active participation of women was critical to the development of the kingdom he had ample opportunity to do something about it.

This misinformation from the Indlovukazi is part of a growing trend in Swaziland to misrepresent the election as democratic and meaningful.

Already the king has been exposed in the international media (but not in Swaziland) for misrepresenting opinion about the credibility of the 2008 election. He told the Swazi Parliament that the Pan African Parliament (PAP) had praised the kingdom for the way it ran its election and put Swaziland forward as an example for the rest of Africa to follow.

In fact, the PAP said no such thing. Instead it said the election did not meet 'regional and international standards and principles for democratic elections', because political parties were not able to take part.

In a report on the 2008 election the PAP also said women were disadvantaged because 'cultural norms' militate against women's participation. It recommended, 'More measures should be put in place to empower women to compete in elections.'

King Mswati also misled people when he opened the Swazi Parliament on Friday (15 February 2013). He said, '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.'

But, in Swaziland the people do not choose the government: King Mswati does that.

In 2008, he chose Barnabas Dlamini to be PM, even though Dlamini had not been elected by anybody. Most of the government, including Majozi Sithole, who has been Finance Minister for more than 10 years overseeing an economy in ruins, are also selected by the king. The people of Swaziland have no way of selecting a government or of sacking it if it wishes.

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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