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.
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