15 May 2018

Swaziland: Registration Opens for Swazi Election

Swaziland's Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) says it is fully prepared for the forthcoming national election. Registration is open and runs to 17 June 2018.

EBC Chair Chief Gija Dlamini has been talking up the election and says he expects people to 'vote in their numbers'. A date for the election has yet to be announced.

He should hope that there is not a re-run of the chaotic registration process at the last election in 2013. Across the kingdom people turned up to register at 400 centres only to be turned away. Excuses given to them ranged from computer equipment not working to polling clerks not properly trained to perform their duties.

The campaign to sign up voters was sluggish and the EBC struggled to generate interest so registration was extended by a week.

Eventually, the EBC announced 411,084 people had registered to vote out of the 600,000 people in the kingdom it said were eligible to vote. At the previous election in 2008, the EBC signed up 88 percent of the eligible 400,000 population. If it signed up a similar proportion in 2013, there should have been 528,000 people on the electoral roll.

A campaign to boycott the election may have affected registration numbers. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the parliament that is selected has no real power and acts as a rubber stamp for King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

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.

There was reported corruption during registration in 2013. The EBC said some people were offered bribes of E100 (US$10 at the then exchange rate) or E200 to register twice.

The EBC said it did not have enough money to run the election successfully as the Swazi Government had cut its allocation from E200 million to E100 million. It is claimed that it could not afford enough staff to monitor the registration of voters across the whole kingdom.

The ability of members of the EBC to do their job was questioned. King Mswati appointed the EBC in 2008 and at the time many civil society organisations and pro-democracy campaigners criticised the choices because members were inexperienced. The Swazi Constitution demands that the EBC chair should be a qualified judge, but King Mswati appointed one of his half-brothers, Chief Gija Dlamini, who was variously described at the time as an electrician or electrical engineer, to the post, which he still holds today.

The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) shortly after the 2008 election reported, '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"'.

Swaziland

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