15 August 2018

Swaziland People Not Allowed to Elect Government

Photo: The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa
King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Eswatini (file photo).
opinion

The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) in Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini) is deliberately misleading voters into believing they are voting for a government when they are not.

It is spreading false messages on social media platforms urging people to go to the polls so they can determine their own future and that of their families. The first round of voting takes place on 25 August 2018.

Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III as one of the world's last absolute monarchs. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government. People are only allowed to vote for 59 members of the House of Assembly. The King appoints a further 10. No members of the 30-strong Swaziland Senate are elected by the people.

There is nothing new about this and it is not a secret. The Swaziland Constitution that came into force in 2006 sets out the political system in the kingdom known as tinkhundla. In 2013 King Mswati renamed this 'Monarchical Democracy' which he called a system formed by merging the will of the people with the monarch. Voters are only permitted to vote for people as individuals. A government by definition is a collection of people who want to achieve common goals in areas such as the economy, health, education and so on. In a democracy people get the chance to weigh up different policies presented by different parties and choose the one to form the government.

As I wrote in my recently published study Organised Certainty, Why elections in Swaziland are not democratic the European Union Election Experts Mission (EEM), one of a number of international groups that monitored the conduct of Swaziland's election in 2013, made much of how the kingdom's absolute monarchy undermined democracy. It reported, 'The King has absolute power and is considered to be above the law, including the Constitution, enjoying the power to assent laws and immunity from criminal proceedings. A bill shall not become law unless the King has assented to it, meaning that the parliament is unable to pass any law which the King is in disagreement with.'

The EEM was not alone in saying Swaziland is undemocratic. The Institute for Security Studies in 2012 said tinkhundla elections could essentially be defined as 'organised certainty', since they reproduced the prevailing political status quo in Swaziland. It went on to say, 'The ruling regime enjoys an unchallenged monopoly over state resources, and elections have increasingly become arenas for competition over patronage and not policy.'

This view is not confined to the ISS. The 2013 election observation report of the Commonwealth Expert Team questioned the elections' credibility because they resulted in 'a Parliament which does not have power', because of the ban on political parties.

The United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a report on Swaziland in 2013 said there was no effective democracy in Swaziland. 'The King has the power summarily to appoint and dismiss ministers, all parliamentary candidates require the approval of their chief (who is dependent on the monarch for wealth and power) and while political parties are not forbidden, they are banned from participating in elections. All candidates must run as independents.'

In its report on conduct of the 2013 election, the African Union (AU) mission called for fundamental changes 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.'

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