22 May 2013

Swaziland: Govt Wrong On Election Freedom

Percy Simelane, the Swaziland Government's official spokesperson, misled people when he told media, 'Everyone is free to speak about the elections and [they can do it] anywhere.'

Simelene was responding to a question by the Swazi Observer newspaper after Witwatersrand University in South Africa hosted a dialogue on the national election due in Swaziland later this year.

Political parties banned in Swaziland were invited to the meeting.

According to the Observer, Simelene said the parties were, 'practicing their democratic right to expression and assembly, and government had no business stopping them'.

He told the Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, 'Everyone is free to speak about the elections and anywhere.'

But, what he said is demonstrably not true. The regime, headed by King Mswati, has steadfastly refused to allow any discussion about the election or the political system in the kingdom to take place.

On 12 April, democrats wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of King Sobhuza's Royal Decree that in 1973 turned Swaziland from a democracy to a kingdom ruled by an autocratic monarch, by holding a public meeting to discuss the forthcoming national election in Swaziland. All political parties are banned from taking part and the meeting was to discuss why this was so.

Armed police and riot troops, acting without a court order, physically blocked the restaurant in Manzini where the meeting was to take place. The police said the meeting was a threat to state security.

A week later, on 19 April, the 45th birthday of King Mswati III, the banned youth group SWAYOCO tried to hold a rally at Msunduza Township in Mbabane to discuss the election. Again, police forced the meeting to close. Organisers of the meeting have been charged with sedition.

Following these events, raids on the homes of democracy activists in Swaziland took place. Wonder Mkhonza, the National Organizing Secretary of the banned political party the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) was allegedly found in possession of 5,000 pamphlets belonging to PUDEMO. He has been charged with sedition.

The Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC), in a joint statement, said police in Swaziland were now a 'private militia' with the sole purpose of serving the Royal regime.

In April, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) reported to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in The Gambia that Swaziland was becoming a 'military state'.

OSISA reported that the Swazi army, police and correctional services were being deployed to 'clamp down on any peaceful protest action by labour or civil society organisations ahead of the country's undemocratic elections'.

Separately, the US Embassy in Swaziland voiced its 'deep concern' about the way the police engaged in 'acts of intimidation and fear' against people seeking their political rights.

Elections are due to take place later this year, at a date yet to be announced by King Mswati.

A campaign to boycott the election, because political parties are banned from taking part and because the Parliament that is selected has no real powers, is gaining momentum.

The election is only to select 55 members of the House of Assembly. A further 10 members are appointed by the king. No members of the Senate House are elected by the people. Of its 30 members, 20 are chosen by the king and 10 are elected by members of the House of Assembly.

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