13 April 2018

Swaziland: Early Election Campaigning Illegal

Swaziland's Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) says that would-be members of parliament are breaking the law by campaigning for votes before they have been given permission.

EBC Communications Officer Mbonisi Bhembe said it could be difficult to prove that a candidate was campaigning. The Times of Swaziland on Wednesday (11 April 2018) reported Bhembe said people were donating gifts in their communities and this might be a campaigning strategy. He said campaigning was against the law and fines of E10,000 could be imposed.

Elections are due later in 2018 at a date yet to be set by King Mswati III who rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. In the process nominations take place followed by primary and secondary elections. By law in Swaziland candidates cannot start to campaign until after the primary elections.

Nominations take place at Imiphakatsi (chiefdoms) where candidates are chosen to compete against one another in 'primary' elections. The winners of these become their chiefdom's candidate in the 'secondary' elections where they compete against each other at the Inkhundla (constituency) level to be elected to the House of Assembly.

Political parties are banned from taking part in the election: they are also in effect banned completely in Swaziland and no discussion on political policy is encouraged. Groups critical of the present political system in Swaziland have been branded 'terrorists' under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

According to the Swazi Constitution campaigning can only begin once the primary elections are over. This means that Swazi people are being asked to elect people at the primary without knowing what they stand for and what they will do if eventually elected to parliament.

This makes the primary no better than a beauty competition, where the best you can hope to do is to elect the person you most like the look of.

What reasoning there is behind the law to deny people the right to hear their candidates speak and question them on why they should be elected is lost in history. One theory is that the candidates are members of the local community and people would already know who they are and what they think.

If this theory is true it puts the electorate on the level of schoolchildren electing their class captain.

A more sinister view is that by not allowing discussion, the chiefs, who are the local representatives of the King, are able to influence their subjects to vote for the chief's choice. Chiefs have many powers over their subjects and those who disobey might find themselves banished from their homes or denied international food aid when it is distributed.

Campaigning begins once the primary elections are over, but because political parties are banned it is impossible for voters to elect a government. Instead, they choose people on 'individual merit'. And, it is this that King Mswati and those who benefit from his feudal regime say makes Swaziland's democracy 'unique'.

Members of parliament have no power as this rests with King Mswati, so candidates cannot in all honesty promise their electorates that they will achieve anything for them if elected. However, that does not stop them trying and in the run up to polling day candidates claim they will bring 'development' to their areas. This usually refers to basic amenities such as piped water and electricity.

If the previous elections are any guide, candidates will also use food, beer, blankets and cash to bribe people for their vote.

Once the secondary election is over King Mswati will appoint his government without reference to the people's will and then determine its policies. In 2008 he appointed Barnabas Dlamini Prime Minister, even though he was never elected by the Swazi people. He remains PM today.

In the recent past the secondary elections were for 55 members of the 65-seat House of Assembly. The other 10 members were appointed by the king. No members of the 30-strong Swaziland Senate are elected by the people: the king appoints 20 members and the other 10 are elected by members of the House of Assembly. From this year the number of members of the House of Assembly increases by four and the public will select 59 of them.

Richard Rooney

Swaziland

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