Aspiring members of the Swaziland Parliament have been warned that bribing voters is a serious offence. It could bring them a two-year jail sentence or a fine of not less than E10,000 (US$760).
This is the message from the kingdom’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) as it tours Swaziland holding a series of ‘voter education’ sessions. Swazis go to the polls in 2018 at a date yet to be announced by King Msawti III who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch.
Bribery is rife at election time and takes many forms. In 2013 at the last election Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini said it was alright to accept a bribe, as long as people did not then vote for the person giving it.
The Times of Swaziland reported at the time (1 July 2013), ‘He said people can accept the “brown envelope” (bribe) from those illegally campaigning for the national elections.
‘He said the electorate should not even turn away free food offered to them, but should eat to their heart’s content. However, when the time to vote comes, they should not choose such characters.
‘The PM was responding to concerns raised by senators about some individuals who had already started campaigning through holding thanksgiving parties and offering food among other items to members of their communities.’
Political parties are banned from taking part in the election and people stand as individuals. Often their main campaign message is that they can bring much needed development to a community.
Ahead of the 2013 poll, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, said in an editorial comment (30 May 2013) that when EBC Chairperson Chief Gija Dlamini ‘was asked about the sudden proliferation of Good Samaritans countrywide as the elections beckon, he jocularly answered that it was a boon for the poorest of the poor, who would be getting free meals and comfy blankets.’
The Observer commented that when an MP ‘presented his chief with a “brand new second hand vehicle,” Chief Gija also observed that this was a good deed indeed, as that subject had realised that the father figure in the community was struggling to get from point A to B to deal with matters only he could, and such a gesture was a genuine display of the reverence that particular subject held for his leader.
‘He could not come out clear on the question of the timing of such generosity, in light of the upcoming polls.
‘It would seem the floodgates of blatant electioneering cloaked in a veil of newly discovered generosity had been swung wide open. Soon, the country was awash with Mother Theresas who were splashing money to vulnerable citizens and doling out cheap-quality blankets. Others slaughter chickens, pigs, goats and even hard to come by cattle, in a bid to outdo Jesus Christ as they re-enact a poor imitation of the feeding of the multitudes, all for a slice of the honourable status cake.
‘As the madness continues, the world looks on, as the rush for obvious votes stolen off gullible voters continues, and say; “what a farce!”’
The previous election in 2008 was riddled with bribery. After the poll Swaziland’s Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini said that candidates bribed voters to win parliamentary seats. He was reported saying there had been ‘a lot of mischievous deeds done by the candidates’.
Dlamini did not give details but was quoted in the Swazi Observer (25 September 2008) saying, ‘There are a lot of things that happened but I cannot be specific since that would seem I am attacking people.’
Dlamini said people declared publicly that they were given money to vote. He said that was not the way to win in an election and added the candidates knew what was expected of them but they continued to break the law.
‘Giving people money is against the law and the candidates know that but they continue defying the law’, the Observer quoted him saying.
Despite his own evidence to the contrary, Dlamini said that, all in all, the elections were free and fair.
Former cabinet minister Mfomfo Nkambule has said it was an ‘open secret’ that some of the MPs paid voters to vote for them. At the 2008 election, he said the danger in this was that a government of people who buy favours was being created.
His assertion was supported by several court applications in which candidates complained that their competitors had paid voters. In one case, an election winner was said to have distributed E50 [a week’s income for more than 70 percent of the population] to each voter whilst in another incident one was alleged to have distributed E10 to voters.
In September 2008 it was reported that one losing candidate Celucolo Dino Dlamini in Kukhanyeni told voters they would not be getting the kombi (small bus) he promised them, because they failed to elect him.
As reports emerged about bribery during the 2008 elections. The Times of Swaziland was so angry about the malpractice it has called many of the new MPs ‘cheats’.
In an editorial comment (30 September 2008) the newspaper said, ‘We no longer have an election; we have a selection of those who were able to buy their way into power.’
The Times went on to say that the new MPs would be ripe for bribing. ‘From what we hear, corrupt MPs are there for the taking as they seek to recoup their “expenditure” on the election campaign. None of the MPs we have spoken to wish to come on record for reasons we only see as putting themselves up for the financial rewards on offer. What a shame. Individuals have pledged their first salary, plots and other gains to the MPs. The whole process has simply gone rotten and can best be described as a sham.’
POLL OBSERVERS: REWRITE CONSTITUTION
SWAZI ELECTION ‘WILL BE A FRAUD’
BRIBERY RIFE AT SWAZILAND ELECTION
PROBE INTO SWAZILAND POLL BRIBES