22 August 2013

Swaziland: King's Paper in Propaganda Overdrive

The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, has gone into propaganda overdrive in reporting the current election in the kingdom.

On Thursday (22 August 2013), it quoted extensively from a report made by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) into conduct at the last election held in Swaziland in 2008.

According to the Observer, EISA said the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), the body set up by the king to oversee the election process, 'managed to achieve notable progress despite the lack of time and by comparison to the previous election [in 2003].'

EISA did indeed make such an observation, but it also went on to say this, 'There is much yet to be done, for the Swazi legal and constitutional framework is sorely deficient and Swaziland falls far short of the standards that would have to be met in order for the country to be classed as a democracy.'

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in the election and opposition groups to the king are branded 'terrorists' under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Democracy advocates have been arrested and charged with sedition.

EISA made a scathing critique of the EBC and its relationship to the King.

This is what the EISA Election Observer Mission Report 2008 said, and the Observer report omitted.

'Almost all the stakeholders regarded the members of the EBC as royal appointees.

'Stakeholders did not regard the EBC as independent and believed that the EBC operated under the instruction of the King. Stakeholders also expressed the view that the EBC was not representative of society as a whole, but was drawn exclusively from government officials or members of the aristocracy.

'Most believed that the Commissioners do not meet the qualifications laid down in the constitution in Article 90(6): "The chairperson, deputy chairperson and the other members of the Commission shall possess the qualifications of a Judge of the superior courts or be persons of high moral character, proven integrity, relevant experience and demonstrable competence in the conduct of public affairs"'.

EISA added, 'Most stakeholders were of the view that the EBC was lacking in transparency and secretive in its operations. They felt that even information that should indisputably have been in the public domain, such as the election timetable, was given out piecemeal and very late in the day.'

In its report EISA made several recommendations, and this was its first:

'Enormous power is concentrated in the hands of the King. The direct active role that the King plays in the political life of Swaziland has polarised the Swazi people. This is in direct conflict with his higher and more crucial role as the living embodiment of the Swazi nation and of its culture:

'Executive authority is vested in the hands of a hereditary monarch and not in the hands of a democratically elected office-bearer who is answerable to the electorate. The Team recommends that executive power be vested in a Prime Minister who should be answerable to the House of Assembly as the elected representatives of the citizens of Swaziland.

'One third of the members of Parliament are appointed by and answerable to the King, who is not an elected office-bearer. The Team recommends that the number of executive appointees be drastically reduced and the purpose of the appointments be clearly defined in the Constitution. All such appointments should be made by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister and ratified by the House of Assembly ...

'The King effectively has the power to veto legislation and Parliament cannot override the veto. The Team recommends that the King have the power to veto legislation only once and that vetoed legislation can then be passed by Parliament in a constitutionally determined process and by a constitutionally determined majority.

'There is an almost universal perception amongst stakeholders that the King has undue powers in regard to the appointment of the members of the EBC and in its day to day functioning, so that its independence from the executive is brought into question.

'The Team recommends that alternative models of appointing the EBC be explored, and adapted to Swaziland's needs so as to secure the EBC's independence from the executive and the perception of independence in the eyes of stakeholders.'

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