13 May 2018

Swaziland: Voters Misled On Swaziland Election

Photo: Cia Pak/UN Photo
King Mswati III of Swaziland addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-second session.

With voter registration underway Swaziland is once more saying people will vote for a government when they will not.

King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King will choose whoever he wishes to be Prime Minister and to sit in the cabinet.

The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) announced on Friday (11 May 2018) that registration will continue until 17 June 2018. The King has yet to announce the date of the election, but it is expected to be in September.

The Observer on Saturday (12 May 2018), a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported EBC Commissioner Ncumbi Maziya saying the vote would lead to elected legislators and the appointment of cabinet.

It is widely recognised outside of Swaziland that the national election that takes place every five years is not 'free and fair' because political parties are not allowed to take part and the parliament has no powers as it is subservient to the wishes of the King.

In the past people only got to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chose the other 10. This time there will be an additional four seats for people to vote for. It has not been announced how many members the King will choose but the Swaziland Constitution allows him to pick up to ten.

As in previous years, no members of the Swazi Senate will be elected by the people; the King will choose 20 and the other 10 will be chosen by members of the House of Assembly.

After the most recent national election in 2013, the African Union (AU) mission called for fundamental changes in the kingdom to ensure people had freedom of speech and of assembly. The AU said the Swaziland Constitution guaranteed 'fundamental rights and freedoms including the rights to freedom of association', but in practice 'rights with regard to political assembly and association are not fully enjoyed'. The AU said this was because political parties were not allowed to contest elections.

The AU urged Swaziland to review the constitution, especially in the areas of 'freedoms of conscience, expression, peaceful assembly, association and movement as well as international principles for free and fair elections and participation in electoral process'.

In its report on the 2013 elections, Commonwealth observers recommended that measures be put in place to ensure separation of powers between the government, parliament and the courts so that Swaziland was in line with its international commitments.

They also called on the Swaziland Constitution to be 'revisited'.

The report stated, 'This should ideally be carried out through a fully inclusive, consultative process with all Swazi political organisations and civil society (needed, with the help of constitutional experts), to harmonise those provisions which are in conflict. The aim is to ensure that Swaziland's commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal.'

It also recommended that a law be passed to allow for political parties to take part in elections, 'so as to give full effect to the letter and spirit of Section 25 of the Constitution, and in accordance with Swaziland's commitment to its regional and international commitments'.

In 2015, following a visit to Swaziland, a Commonwealth mission renewed its call for the constitution to be reviewed so the kingdom could move toward democracy.

Richard Rooney

Swaziland

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