Swaziland: Results of Swaziland Election Not Published One Month After Poll Questioning Kingdom's Claim to Democracy

King Mswati III in his suit of diamonds and wearing his U.S.$1.6 million watch cuts his birthday cake (file photo).
opinion

The results of the House of Assembly election in Swaziland/Eswatini have still not been published one month after the vote took place.

It is further evidence that the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch is not a democracy.

The election took place on 21 September 2018. The kingdom's Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) promptly announced the winners at the 59 constituencies (known as tinkhundla) but no break-down giving the number of votes cast for each candidate has been released.

This is not new in Swaziland: the full results of the previous election held in 2013 have never been published.

In Swaziland, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the people are only allowed to select 59 members of the House of Assembly; the King appoints a further 10. No members of the 30-strong Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 members and the House of Assembly elects 10. Following the election King Mswati appointed six members of his Royal Family to the House of Assembly and eight members to the Senate.

The EBC has not released the results of the House of Assembly election, although they are known. The two national newspapers in Swaziland published some results from individual tinkhundla as they were announced on the night of the election.

The EBC has the capacity to publish the results. After the first round of the election (known as the Primary Election) on 24 August 2018, the EBC uploaded on its website all the results. At the time the Swazi Media Commentary (SMC) blogsite analysed the data and found a total of 156,973 people voted for members of the House of Assembly at the Primary Election; 28.83 percent of those who had registered.

In June 2018 after revising the figure the EBC announced that 544,310 people had registered to vote. It said earlier that 600,000 people in the kingdom were eligible to register. This meant, according to EBC figures, that 90.7 percent of eligible people had done so. The EBC figure was questioned after allegations were made of election law breaking. No copy of the national electoral roll was made public.

SMC reported that the size of the turnout in the Primary Election was important as voting was the only way people in Swaziland had of demonstrating their support (or lack of it) for the political system. In 1973, King Sobhuza II tore up the constitution, banned political parties and began to rule by decree. Although a new constitution came into effect in 2006, little has changed and King Sobhuza's son King Mswati III continues to rule as an absolute monarch. Political opposition is banned in Swaziland and those who campaign for democracy are charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The voting figures for the Primary Election suggested a lack of support for the political process. The results of the primary Election have since been removed from the EBC website.

The final round of the election (known as the Secondary Election) was marred by accusations of bribery, vote-rigging and other malpractice. There were also outbreaks of violence. Police fired gunshots, stun grenades and rubber bullets as voters at Sigwe protested against completed ballot papers being taken away from a polling centre. In Ndzingeni polling stations voters were dispersed using teargas during counting as voters threatened to enter the polling station where counting was taking place. APA news agency reported outbursts of violence started as early as noontime on election day and intensified in the evening when the counting of votes was about to resume.

Some journalists and official independent election observers were barred from entering voting counting centres and told they must sign a declaration of secrecy form.

Following the election official complaints were made to the EBC about malpractice. Residents at Ntfonjeni said people were bussed in and allowed to vote after the election had closed. At Ndzingeni residents complained of vote-rigging.

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