Supporters of King Mswati III's autocratic regime in Swaziland say that the Swazi people accept the present political system and do not want change, but evidence from the way they vote suggests the opposite is the case.
As Swaziland prepares for a national election later this year, a campaign for a boycott is growing. Opponents of the election say that it is undemocratic because political parties are banned from taking part and the parliament that is elected has no powers, because King Mswati rules as an absolute monarch.
The opponents have been silenced, often violently, by the king's police and security forces. Police chiefs are on record saying that opposition to the election is a threat to state security. Some opposition leaders have been charged with sedition.
Members of the Swazi Government, which is not elected by the popular vote, but selected by the king, say Swazi people, voicing their opinion through sibaya, want the present system to stay and do not want to hear opposition to the election.
Sibaya is an event where the king allows people to gather at the royal cattle kraal to voice opinions about matters they feel are important to them. It is suggested by the king's supporters that sibaya is the supreme policy making body in the kingdom.
But, an analysis of how people vote at election time suggests that Swazi people do not support the present system.
At the last election in 2008, fewer than half the people eligible to vote actually did so. A report by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) published shortly after the election, using official statistics, revealed that a although a record 88 percent of the 400,000 estimated eligible population registered for the elections, when it came time to vote fewer than half these people (47.4 per cent), actually did so.
In its analysis called Election Observer Mission Report, EISA recorded that in 2008, 350,778 people actually registered to vote, but only 189,559 (54 percent) of those people went on to vote.
EISA also noted that the numbers of people voting at elections had fallen since 1993, the first election in Swaziland where registration of voters took place. National elections in Swaziland take place every five years. It reported the turnout of registered voters who actually voted in 2003 was 57.9 percent; in 1998 it was 60.4 percent; and in 1993 it was 61.0 percent.
EISA attributed the low turnout in 2008 to a campaign for a boycott of the election by progressives in Swaziland.
It reported on the 2008 election, 'In many ways the call by the trade unions, most of the political parties and many civil society organisations for a boycott of the election transformed the election into a referendum on the legitimacy of the new Constitution and the political order that it enshrines.
'The King's response to the boycott call was to summon the nation to the royal cattle byre and urge the people to register for the election and to vote. The government's response has been to pour resources into the election to enable the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to conduct it efficiently and to ensure that voters were able to vote.
'The chiefs for their part mobilised their subjects in the rural areas to register and to vote.'
The report added that the Swazi people turned up in large numbers to register, 'reversing the apathy that characterised the 2003 election: a record 88 percent of the 400,000 estimated eligible population registered for these elections'.
It added, 'The best indication we have of whether the boycott was a success or not is the voter turnout rate.'
It added there was, 'a slight but steady decline (3 percent) in the number of voters casting their ballots between 1993 and 2003.
'However, in the 2008 elections, despite the large number of voters who registered for the election and efforts of the authorities to galvanise voters, the turnout actually dropped by nearly 4 percent, 1 percent more than over the previous three elections together. Thus only 47.4% of the 400,000 estimated eligible voters actually voted.'
'From this we may conclude that large numbers of Swazis heeded the boycott call and thereby signalled their disenchantment with the current Constitutional dispensation,' the report said.