Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Police Force Worshippers From Churches to Attend Election Nominations

Police in Swaziland / Eswatini forced worshippers out of churches to attend election nominations because numbers were small.
It happened at about 10 churches around Mathendele in Nhlangano on Sunday (29 July 2018), the Times of Swaziland reported.

It reported police ‘barged’ into churches ‘to “encourage” worshippers to suspend their business of worship over politics’.

It added, ‘This was reportedly after it was realised that the attendance at the polling station wasn’t impressive, way after the scheduled time for the nomination process was set to begin. Worshippers from several churches (close to 10) had to abruptly slash the length of their services after police officers arrived to convince them that the nomination process was also an essential part of their lives. Witnesses said it was shortly after 10 a.m. when the officers embarked on the church door-to-door visitations.’

The Times reported, ‘Several interviewed worshippers said the police officers invaded their church while a service was ongoing and accused those gathered there of not taking important national assignments seriously.’

It added, ‘Sources revealed that in some of the visited churches, the officers were given a tough time by church leaders, who demanded written proof that worshipping was “banned” on the day.’

It is not reported if police elsewhere in Swaziland also invaded churches.

Nominations for forthcoming elections took place on Saturday and Sunday. Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in the election for House of Assembly. No members of the Senate are elected by the people. Under Swaziland’s political system called tinkhundla or monarchical democracy the King chooses the Prime Minister and government members.

Followers of the King say that the people in Swaziland support the political system but there is no independent evidence for this. 

The Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) that runs the election reported more than 90 percent of the 600,000 people it said were eligible to vote had registered.

In a separate report monthly magazine the Nation said (July 2018) that people had been forced into registering to vote at the election. It said the huge turnout was ‘attributed to persistent rumours that those who did not register for the elections would be denied services in government institution.’

It added, ‘The large turnout of the youth is an indication of scrambling for government scholarships. The rumours have hit home.’

The Nation reported, ‘There was also voter apathy during the municipality elections [in 2017] such that there are councillors who boasted of only five votes taking them into office.’

See also

Doubts Over Validity of Swaziland Election

New Study Shows Why Swaziland Elections Are Not Democratic

‘Vote Rigging’ as Registration Tops 90 percent

Monday, July 30, 2018

Doubt Over Validity of Swaziland Election

The validity of the House of Assembly election in Swaziland / Eswatini has been called into question with a newspaper report that nominations for candidates went ahead without a final voters’ roll.

Without the list of who had registered to vote it was impossible to check that voters were genuine and names had not been invented or people ‘rented’ to a constituency to support a candidate.

Ackel Zwane, a veteran journalist in Swaziland, wrote in the Swazi Observer on Friday (27 July 2018) this was the first time in the history of Swaziland’s elections that nominations took place without a published voters’ roll. Nominations took place at the weekend (28 and 29 July 2018). 

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as one of the world’s last absolute monarchs. In the Tinkhundla system political parties are not allowed to stand in the election and the King appoints the Prime Minister and government. The King also in effect owns the Observer newspaper.

Zwane wrote, ‘We had also expected the list of nomination centres at dates to have been distributed together with the final voters roll in order to allow for voters to scrutinise and detect rented and non-qualifying candidates from being nominated in the said centres.’

He also criticised the fact that the days for nomination were not made public holidays. He said, ‘Since the Tinkhundla system of governance allows for individual status at elections, not group or party representation, all citizens should have been allowed at both the nominations, primary and secondary elections the same level ground, by declaring these days public holidays in order for all citizens to enjoy that same status of being equal just this once.’

The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has been under intense scrutiny for the way it is running the election. Earlier in July amid claims of corruption and vote rigging it reported more than 90 percent of those it said were eligible had registered to vote. Registration had been extended by 12 days at the end of June 2018.

EBC said 544,310 from 600,000 eligible registered. The figures compare to 414,704 who registered at the last election in 2013. Of those, 251,278 people voted.

Zwane disputed the EBC registration figures. Writing in the Swazi Observer, (6 July 2018) he said there had been ‘blatant breaking of the electoral law’ and the EBC had deliberately ignored this.

He wrote, ‘The law succinctly prescribes that there must be proof of residence at registration, but the EBC has been inflating figures of registered voters in the country’s malls and population centres without requiring proof of residence.’

He added, ‘The figures have now been inflated with non-qualifying elements registering to vote, all because there is no efficient system to prune out the frauds.’

Zwane wrote,  ‘It is at these stages that an election loses its credibility.’

He said election law required people registering to vote in urban areas to produce evidence of their Swazi citizenship or permanent residence. ‘Nothing of this requirement was met at the registration points around the malls and shopping complexes throughout the country.’

He added, ‘Now this has opened floodgates to the elections mafia who are able to manipulate these loopholes by registering as many foreigners as possible, especially impoverished Mozambicans who freely roam Eswatini [Swaziland] without requiring any papers to remain in the country.

Zwane said it would be impossible to verify the electoral roll ahead of voting. ‘The individual citizens do not possess the ability and resources to undertake the cumbersome task of identifying each individual voter in a particular area whether authentic or fraudulent. Even the EBC does not have the resources, skill and time to do this, otherwise they would have prevented the crises at registration.’

During the registration period there were many media reports of incompetence, corruption and nepotism. When registration began equipment was not in place at all centres and trained election personnel were not always available and there were many reports of computer failures. A toll-free line available for people to report grievances and challenges they met at registration centres failed to work on MTN mobile phone numbers. Many people did not receive voter cards after registering, leaving them in doubt that they would be able to cast their vote.

Reports of attempted bribery were rife across the kingdom. At Maphungwane in the Matsanjeni North Constituency football teams rejected a E10,000 (US$790) sponsorship from an aspiring member of parliament. The Swazi Observer reported (18 May 2018) that the sponsorship was in the form of prize money that would be paid at the end of the football season and after the election had been held.

The newspaper reported the clubs’ representatives questioned the timing of the sponsorship and rejected the offer. One club boss told the Observer that aspiring MPs had also tried to manipulate them in the past.

There was a report that police in Swaziland were investigating possible election corruption concerning a former government minister accused of bribing people with promises of food parcels for their votes. 

Poverty-stricken textile workers said they sold their votes for cash and chicken pieces. The Swazi Observer reported sitting members of parliament had sent their agents into factories to buy up votes in the industrial town of Matsapha. People said they were persuaded to register as residents of the surrounding areas as opposed to their chiefdoms of origin. 

Other textile workers in Nhlangano said groups of 50 or 60 of them had been given free lunches by sponsors of people keen to win seats in parliament. They also said transport costs to and from work had been paid. The Swazi Observer reported on Friday (15 June 2018) that some outgoing MPs were involved.

Residents at Mbangweni complained of nepotism when four people selected to assist in the election were from the same family. The Swazi Observer reported Inkhosatana Gelane, the acting KoNtshingila chief, saying they were ‘loyal and respectful residents’. 

Many residents in areas including Engwenyameni, Madadeni, and Lavumisa, said they would boycott the election because they were dissatisfied with how constituency boundaries had been drawn. 

Days before registration closed EBC Chair Chief Gija Dlamini told media that all persons nominated for election would be vetted by police.

See also

New Study Shows Why Swaziland Elections Are Not Democratic

Friday, July 27, 2018

New Study Shows Why Swaziland Elections Are Not Democratic

Swaziland voters go to the polls on 21 September 2018 for the national election but we can already name the winner – it will be the absolute monarch King Mswati III. In the kingdom’s tinkhundla political system political parties are banned from taking part and people are only allowed to elect 59 members of the House of Assembly, the King chooses another ten. No members of the 30-strong Senate are elected by the people. When the election is over King Mswati will choose a Prime Minister and cabinet. He also chooses top judges and civil servants.

As a measure of his power in April 2018 on his fiftieth birthday and in the year that Swaziland marked its fiftieth anniversary of independence from Great Britain the King announced unilaterally that Swaziland would henceforth be named Eswatini. No public debate took place and a legal notice was signed.

A system of ‘Monarchical Democracy’ invented by King Mswati in 2013 to justify his power exists in Swaziland. He called it a system formed by merging the will of the people with the monarch. He tried to sell this a new idea but he later admitted to Reuters news agency (13 September 2013) that it was just another name for the tinkhundla system that already existed

European Union Election Experts Mission (EEM), one of a number of international groups that monitored the conduct of Swaziland’s election in 2013, made much of how the kingdom’s absolute monarchy undermined democracy. It reported, ‘The King has absolute power and is considered to be above the law, including the Constitution, enjoying the power to assent laws and immunity from criminal proceedings. A bill shall not become law unless the King has assented to it, meaning that the parliament is unable to pass any law which the King is in disagreement with.’

A new study called Organised Certainty, Why elections in Swaziland are not democratic  examines Swaziland elections and demonstrates that power rests with the King regardless of who the people put into the House of Assembly. It is available free of charge online at Scribd <<https://www.scribd.com/document/384752084/Organised-Certainty-Why-Elections-in-Swaziland-Are-Not-Democratic>>

People do not elect the government and have no way of influencing its policies. The report follows the last poll in 2013 step by step from the period running up to it and through the long-drawn out election process that includes registration, nominations, a primary election and a final (secondary) vote.

Section one details the political landscape of Swaziland. The Institute for Security Studies called the tinkhundla elections ‘organised certainty’ because they changed nothing and allowed the ruling regime to have an unchallenged monopoly over state resources.

Section two reviews the work of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) that was launched in 2008 under great controversy. Chief Gija Dlamini, an engineer and one of King Mswati’s half-brothers, was appointed chair although the Constitution stated the position should go to a judge. The EBC has been under constant criticism since because of its inability to competently run elections. The section also details the election process from registration through to the final (secondary) election.

Section three covers the period running up to the 2013 election which was characterised by increasingly violent and abusive behaviour of police and state forces. International observers such as the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa reported that the state was unable to accept that peaceful political and social dissent was a vital element of a healthy democratic process. The Swaziland United Democratic Front and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign said police in Swaziland had become a private militia. The section using contemporary sources details a number of cases of meetings and prayers being disrupted and prodemocracy campaigners arrested.

Section four looks at registration and nominations in the 2013 election. Registration was characterised by blunders by the EBC and corruption. Nominations descended into chaos across Swaziland as equipment failed and some candidates who wanted to be nominated were prevented because electoral officers would not allow it. Women were banned from nomination because they wore trousers to nomination centres.

Section five examines the primary election. This takes place at chiefdoms and at the end of the process one candidate is selected to go forward to the secondary election at tinkhundla / constituency level. Bribery and corruption allegations were widely reported and the primary elections were riddled with problems including incorrect ballot papers issued, alleged tampering of ballot boxes, wrong results announced, campaign laws broken and residents threatening to boycott the poll. In at least one case riot police had to escort ballot boxes from the polling station.

Section six reviews the secondary election, the stage of voting where the member of the House of Assembly is finally elected. Election observers reported it went more smoothly than the primary election but the vote was marred by instances of violence. Police brutally stopped a peaceful march after voters at one constituency protested the result and there were fears of election rigging elsewhere. Nine people including an 85-year-old woman were taken to hospital when voters at a Lomahasha polling station reported stampeded.

Section seven reports the election results and the aftermath. Although the names of winning candidates were promptly announced it took the EBC more than three years to formally release the results. Only four in ten people entitled to vote did so at the secondary election.

Shortly after the election, King Mswati named two princes, a princess and three members of his own Dlamini clan among his 10 appointees to the House of Assembly. He also appointed six members of his family to the Senate, where he picks 20 members. He then appointed another 16 members of his Royal Family to top political jobs; effectively carving up public life in the kingdom in his favour.

There were nine princess and princesses and a further seven from the family Dlamini in the 24-strong Liqoqo (the Swaziland National Council), the most powerful of the committees that nominally advises the King. There were four princes and princesses and four Dlaminis in the Ludzidzimi Council, which advises the Queen Mother. The Border Restoration Committee which exists to try to get South Africa to give some of its territory to King Mswati had three princes and princesses and five Dlaminis among its 14 members. King Mswati also reappointed Barnabas Dlamini as Prime Minister.

Section eight explores media coverage of the elections. Nearly all broadcast media are state controlled and censored. One of only two daily newspapers in the kingdom is in effect owned by King Mswati. The media told their audiences and readers that it was their duty to support the King by voting. Often media reported that people were electing a government when they were not. International media were more revealing, often reporting the opposition view that the election was a fraud.

Section nine looks at disputes and court procedures. The 2013 election did not end with the announcement of the winners. The Swaziland High Court was kept busy with a number of claims of malpractice. A total of 31 election cases were brought before the High Court for determination by prospective and actual candidates for election and 23 cases were dismissed.

Section ten offers some final words by reprising human rights reports from international organisations for the year 2017 (the most recent available). Among a long list violations are arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government in free and fair elections; institutional lack of accountability in cases involving rape and violence against women and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.

Appendix one is an extract from the Commonwealth Observer Mission Report on the 2013 election. The EBC accredited more than 400 international and local observers to witness the poll. In its report, the EBC listed good practices and areas for improvement highlighted by observers but it ignored the fact that many groups declared the election was not free and fair because Swaziland was not a democracy. The extract from the Commonwealth Observer Mission offers a more complete picture. It concludes, ‘that the entire process could not be deemed credible, due to major democratic deficits’.