21 June 2018

Swaziland: Doubts Election Board Is Competent

King Mswati III the absolute monarch of Swaziland / Eswatini dissolved parliament on Wednesday (20 June 2018) ahead of the national election amid doubts that the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) was competent to organise it.

Earlier in the week the King ordered voter registration to be extended for 11 days beyond the deadline even though the EBC claimed 87 percent of people entitled to vote had registered.

The same thing happened at the previous election in 2013 when registration was extended by a week.

In both cases the EBC was heavily criticised for its organisation. Registration kits were late arriving, personnel were poorly trained, equipment failed, planning in general was poor and there were disputes over constituency boundaries. In 2013 problems continued throughout the primary and secondary elections and after results were announced.

During the present registration period the EBC issued contradictory figures for the numbers registering. Eventually, it reported 526,073 out of what it said was a possible 600,000 voters had registered. In 2013 when registration closed it said 411,084 had registered later revising that figure to 414,704.

The EBC did not issue its formal report on the 2013 election until 2017. It still has not publicly revealed the full results of that election. It named the winners in each constituency but the votes given to losing candidates has not been published.

In the report the EBC recognised some of its own shortcomings and called for a five-year strategy and action plan be developed 'to guide the Commission from one election to another to ensure a successful and well prepared election'. The report said, 'A research and evaluation department needs to be established for the Commission to make informed decisions on elections. There is an urgent need for the restructuring of the Commission's Secretariat to meet international standards.'

It added, 'Education and training of election staff is a major priority.' It also called for more funding and said, 'communication internally and externally within the organization needs to be improved'.

The problems at the EBC were first identified when it was formed in 2008. The Commission consists of five members and its chair is Chief Gija Dlamini, a half-brother of King Mswati. It is supported by a secretariat of 21 people. The commissioners according to the Swaziland Constitution needed the qualifications of a judge of the superior courts or to be persons of 'high moral character, proven integrity, relevant experience and demonstrable competence in the conduct of public affairs'. Chief Gija had been employed as an engineer for 20 years at the Swaziland Water Services Commission and only one of the commissioners had a legal background.

In a report on its observation of the conduct of the 2008 election the EISA (Electoral Institute of Southern Africa) made a scathing critique of the EBC and its relationship to the King. It stated, '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.'

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.'

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) said the way in which the members were selected 'shows the executive's complete disregard for the principles of parliamentary supremacy'.

SCCCO noted 'with extreme concern the utter disregard for both the spirit and the nature of the Swazi constitution in the appointment of members of the EBC'. The Times Sunday in 2008 quoted SCCCO saying, 'We will not stand idly by and watch our votes be rendered useless by a system that regards Parliament and elections as mere window-dressing to appease other states and give the impression of democracy to satisfy international donors.'

SCCCO challenged the legality of the EBC and lack of qualifications of members of its board in the High Court. The court on a two-to-one majority in March 2009 dismissed the case on a legal technicality and did not rule on the matter.

The election takes place on 21 September 2018. Political parties are banned from taking part and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government. International observers have stated that elections in Swaziland are not democratic.

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