Tuesday, May 1, 2018



Swaziland has asked other countries to send it money to help pay for upcoming national elections. It is a request that must be refused. The elections are widely recognised to be bogus.

The kingdom is ruled by King Mswati III as the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The PM is always a Dlamini; the King’s clan.

Elections are held every five years in Swaziland. People only get to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chooses the other 10. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King chooses 20 and the other 10 are elected by members of the House of Assembly.

After the last election in 2013, King Mswati appointed nine princes and princesses to the House of Assembly and the Senate.

King Mswati also appointed four chiefs and one acting chief. In Swaziland chiefs are the personal representatives of the King in their local areas. They are seen as the eyes and ears of the king and often delegate his powers to themselves.

He also appointed another 16 members of his Royal Family to top political jobs; effectively carving up public life in the kingdom in his favour.

The next election is due later in 2018 at a date yet to be set by the King; the present parliament ends in October. 

Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission Chair Chief Gija Dlamini (a half-brother of the King) said he welcomed financial assistance from abroad. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, on Thursday (26 April 2018) reported him saying, ‘Even prominent countries like the United States of America seek financial assistance from other countries at times so we wouldn’t close the door on donor aid towards the elections, but would gladly appreciate assistance,’ he said. 

Democracies would serve the people of Swaziland better by rebuffing calls for assistance. They should also decline invitations to monitor the election for fairness. Instead, they should clearly state that the election cannot be considered free and fair under the present political set-up. 

There are precedents for this. In 2008 the European Union (EU) Ambassador to Swaziland Peter Beck Christiansen said the EU would not be ‘observing’ the election. He was reported by the Times of Swaziland saying there were ‘shortcomings in the kingdom’s democracy’. He highlighted that the Prime Minister and Cabinet were not elected by Parliament.

In 2003, the Commonwealth Expert Group declined an invitation to observe the election. In a letter it stated, ‘We do not regard the credibility of these National elections as an issue: no elections can be credible when they are for a Parliament which does not have power and when political parties are banned.’

Indeed, the parliament has no power. The Prime Minister is merely a placeman for the King. This is no secret. The present Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini is on record saying the government belonged to the King. The Times Sunday also reported him saying, ‘Government listens when His Majesty speaks and we will always implement the wishes of the King and the Queen mother.’

Many organisations have called for Swaziland’s constitution to be rewritten to make the kingdom more democratic.

In November 2008 the Commonwealth Expert Team, which had monitored the election that year called for a review of the constitution because the elections were not credible since political parties were banned in Swaziland. 

After the most recent national election in 2013, the African Union (AU) mission called for fundamental changes in the kingdom 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, the 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.’

It also recommended that a law be passed to allow for political parties to take part in elections, ‘so as to give full effect to the letter and spirit of Section 25 of the Constitution, and in accordance with Swaziland’s commitment to its regional and international commitments’.

In 2015, following a visit to Swaziland, a Commonwealth mission renewed its call for the constitution to be reviewed so the kingdom could move toward democracy.

Richard Rooney

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