Monday, February 10, 2014


King Mswati III, of Swaziland, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa, has claimed that the national election held in his kingdom last September was ‘highly successful’.

What he did not say was that nobody can know whether this statement is true or false because he never released the full election results.

King Mswati was praising the system of democracy in his kingdom, known as ‘monarchical democracy’, where all political parties are banned from taking part in elections. He only allows his subjects to choose 55 members of the 65-seat House of Assembly: he appoints the remaining 10. None of the members of his Senate House are elected by the people. The King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are chosen by members of the House of Assembly.

Once the members of the House of Assembly and Senate are in place King Mswati chooses a Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and senior political figures. None are elected by the people.

King Mswati opened his Swazi Parliament on Friday (7 February 2014) and said, ‘We wish to thank the nation for going out in their numbers to elect a new government in a highly successful election. This was a true demonstration of monarchial (sic) democracy where people get to vote for people of their choice to serve the nation.

He added, ‘The turnout from registration to the secondary elections was impressive in producing the members of parliament that we have here today.

However, full results of the election held in September 2013 have not been released.

The Swaziland Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), which ran the election, announced the names of the winners at each of the 55 constituencies in the House of Assembly promptly after voting took place on 20 September 2013, but only gave the number of votes cast for 45 of them. No figures were given for the losing candidates and the total number of voters taking part in the election has never been revealed.

In the run up to the vote prodemocracy groups urged a boycott of the election and there has been speculation within the kingdom that this was effective.

It is important for King Mswati that there is seen to be a high voter turnout. Only weeks before the election, he announced that Swaziland’s tinkhundla system of democracy would in future be known as a ‘monarchical democracy’. He said this would be a partnership between himself and the people. 

The turnout at the election might be seen as a referendum on how much his subjects support him.

At the previous election in 2008 only 47.4 percent of the estimated 400,000 Swazi people eligible to vote did so. The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) in its report on that election attributed the low turnout to a campaign for a boycott of the election by progressives in Swaziland.

It reported on the 2008 election, ‘The best indication we have of whether the boycott was a success or not is the voter turnout rate.’

Following the 2013 election, the Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported the turnout of people on election day was ‘about 400,000’. However, official figures from the EBC stated that only 411,084 Swazis living in Swaziland had registered to vote, which would have meant if the newspaper was correct the turnout would be 97.3 percent.

In the week following the election the Swaziland Democratic United Front suggested the turnout might be as low as 80,000. The Swaziland Communist Party put the figure at 100,000.

The power wielded by King Mswati was criticised by two independent international groups which observed the Swazi election in 2013. Both the African Union and the Commonwealth Observer Mission suggested the kingdom’s constitution should be reviewed to allow political parties to contest elections.
The Commonwealth Observer Mission added that, ‘The presence of the monarch in the structure of everyday political life inevitably associates the institution of the monarchy with politics, a situation that runs counter to the development that the re-establishment of the Parliament and the devolution of executive authority into the hands of elected officials.’

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