Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Chair Chief Gija Dlamini says he is waiting for King Mswati III’s command before opening the polls.
King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Although elections are held every five years international polling observers say they are bogus.
Political parties are not allowed to take part in the election and the King choses the Prime Minister and cabinet members. Only a man with the surname Dlamini can by tradition be appointed as Prime Minister. The King is a Dlamini.
The King is in control of Swaziland ahead of the 2018 election and he will be in control after it, regardless of which individuals the people vote into the House of Assembly.
Political debate is severely curtailed in the kingdom and advocates for multiparty democracy are regularly arrested and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act or the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act.
Chief Gija Dlamini, himself a member of the Swazi Royal Family, told the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, that preparations were ready for the election. All he needed was the King’s command.
The Observer reported on Wednesday (18 April 2018), ‘He said once the King had given the required command, they would announce the beginning of registration for elections to the nation.’
It quoted him saying, ‘All systems are ready for the commencement of the national duty, and we cannot just announce before we get the King’s command, which will give us the go ahead to announce dates for registration.’
The election process is surrounded by misinformation. In February 2017 the Observer reported Dlamini speaking on behalf of the King. It quoted him saying, ‘If any Swazi fails to register to vote for the upcoming 2018 national elections then they are abandoning their basic right of choosing their own leader, thus hurting the whole kingdom in the process because they would be silencing their own voice because voting unites the kingdom and gives all people a voice and a chance to be counted, but most fundamentally of all, Swazis through voting, have the right to choose who they feel will lead them to the future.’
Dlamini made the comments at a consultative meeting on civic education for traditional leaders at Pigg’s Peak on 2 February 2017.
However, he misled his audience and those who read his statement in the newspaper. The Swazi people have no say in who their leaders are. They are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, the other 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swaziland Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.
He also choses senior civil servants and top judges. The elections have no real purpose other than to give King Mswati a fig leaf of democracy. The Swazi Parliament has no powers. King Mswati can, and does, overrule decisions he does not like. This was the case in October 2012 when the King refused to accept a vote of no confidence passed by the House of Assembly on his government, even though he was obliged by the constitution to do so.
After the last election in 2013 a number of groups that had been official observers of the process reported the election was not free and fair.
The official report of the Commonwealth Observer Mission called for a review of the kingdom’s constitution. It said members of parliament ‘continue to have severely limited powers’ and political parties are banned.
The Commonwealth observers said there was ‘considerable room for improving the democratic system’.
They called for King Mswati’s powers to be reduced. ‘The presence of the monarch in everyday political life inevitably associates the institution of 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,’ it said.
The report said the constitution needed to be revisited with an open debate on what changes were necessary.
It added, ‘This should ideally be carried out through a fully inclusive, consultative process with all Swazi political organisations and civil society (if needed) with the help of constitutional experts.’
The African Union (AU) also 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.’
The AU called on Swaziland to implement the African Commission’s Resolution
on Swaziland in 2012 that called on the Government, ‘to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly’.
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