2 June 2018

Swaziland: Election Board Targets Fewer Voters

Swaziland's Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) is targeting to register fewer voters for the forthcoming national election than registered at the last poll in 2013.

EBC Chairman Chief Gija Dlamini said it was targeting 500,000 voters. The Swazi Observer reported on Friday (1 June 2018) he said, 'It could be a miracle to have all eligible Emaswati [Swazi people] turning out for registering but we are expecting the number to reach 80 per cent.' If this figure is met, 400,000 people will register. He said 278,888 people had already registered.

The 400,000 target is fewer than the 414,704 people who registered to vote in 2013.

The Observer reported Dlamini saying the 500,000 figure was based on the population census undertaken in 2017. However, this figure contradicts an announcement made by the Swazi Government in November 2017, that the total population was 1,093,238 people. It did not say how many people were aged 18 or over (the voting age), but said 35.6 per cent of the population were of 'working age'. That would amount to 389,192 people.

The accuracy of the total population count in Swaziland is in doubt. For years, outside organisations have been estimating the size of the population in Swaziland and recording it as much higher than 1.1 million. The CIA Factbook gave the figure in July 2017 as an estimated 1,467,152 (373,914 higher than the government figure).

The CIA figures show the number of people aged 25 and over as 628,935. It also shows 324,495 people are aged between 15 and 24. It is not certain how many from this group are aged 18 or over but when added to those aged 25 and over the number of people eligible to vote in 2018 would certainly be between 700,000 and 800,000.

The Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, did not report that at the last election in 2013, Dlamini said the EBC was targeting 600,00 people to register.

He told this to the Voice of America radio on 26 May 2013. When it became clear that the EBC would not make this target, he denied it had ever been set.

In 2013, 414,704 people registered to vote. At the final (secondary) election, 251,278 actually voted. That was only 41.8 percent of the 600,000 supposedly entitled to vote.

It matters that there is an accurate figure for the number of people eligible to vote. Elections in Swaziland are recognised outside the kingdom to be undemocratic. Political parties cannot take part and people vote under a system of 'Monarchical Democracy' that underpins the King's place as an absolute monarch. The King chooses the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as well as top judges. The King and his supporters say that the people of Swaziland like it that way and there is no need for change.

But that has never been tested. Media are censored and freedom of assembly is limited, so there has never been an a opportunity to debate whether people are truly happy with the political system. The turnout at elections is used by the King's supporters as a way of measuring this. That is why it is in the interest of the King to spread the message that they are well supported.

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