Saturday, July 21, 2018

Expect Chaos and Rule-breaking at Nominations for Swaziland’s Election, if Last Time is a Guide

As nominations for elections in Swaziland / Eswatini take place next weekend, we might expect confusion, chaos and rule breaking if the experience of last time is a guide.

The credibility of the nomination process in 2013 was severely damaged when it became clear that many people who wanted to nominate candidates were prevented from doing so and some were nominated against the election rules. Many boycotted the nominations altogether.

Swaziland’s election process is long drawn out. King Mswati III rules as one of the world’s last absolute monarchs and political parties are banned from taking part. People must stand as individuals with no affiliations. The nominations will take place on 28 and 29 July 2018 at chiefdoms. 

According to guidelines from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), the name of the nominee is raised by a show of hand and the nominee is given an opportunity to indicate whether he or she accepts the nomination. If he or she accepts it, he or she must be supported by at least ten members of that chiefdom. The nominations are for the position of Member of the House of Assembly (Parliament), Constituency Headman (Indvuna) and the Constituency Executive Committee (Bucopho).

The minimum number of nominees is three and the maximum is twenty. The nomination process takes place in the open, persons are nominated by a show of hand and the nomination is done by the community. Those nominated then contest elections at primary level.

Once the nominations are finished a primary election will take place on 25 August 2018. These are by secret ballot at chieftaincies. At the end of the primary elections, there should be one candidate for the position of the Member of Parliament and one for the position of the Constituency Headman who are going to contest at the secondary election at constituencies (known as tinkhundla) on 21 September 2018.

The credibility of the nomination process in 2013 was severely damaged when it became clear that many people who wanted to nominate candidates were prevented from doing so; some people were nominated against the election rules and cabinet ministers in the outgoing government who were nominated might not have been eligible to stand. EBC Chair Chief Gija Dlamini said some nominated candidates who did not have consent letters from their employers should have been disqualified. Speaking on state-controlled radio, he said it was expected that public servants should have brought with them the letters, which in turn should have been read in front of all the voters. Some people boycotted in protest that venues selected for the nominations were unsuitable. 

Elsewhere equipment failures delayed the start of nomination. There was reported corruption with the EBC saying some people were offered bribes of E100 (US$10 at the then exchange rate) or E200 to register twice.

About 400 residents of Ebutfongweni in the Manzini region under Kukhanyeni Inkhundla said they would not participate in the nominations process because it was being conducted at Nkiliji under Chief Mkhumbi Dlamini. They said they did not pay allegiance to Chief Mkhumbi as their area was at Mbekelweni, under Chief Nkhosini.The Times Sunday (4 August 2013)  reported that the residents, all of whom were registered voters, insisted that they would not participate in the process under Nkiliji after EBC officials did not show up at Ebutfongweni. They expected officers from the commission to conduct the nominations in the area as they had done so in the past. The Times Sunday reported they were the same residents who had previously taken Chief Mkhumbi to court during the elections registration process saying they had a constitutional right to register at a place of their choice.

Meanwhile, a change of a nomination centre at the last moment resulted in more than 50 residents of Siweni, a tiny village near Mbadlane which falls under the Malindza chiefdom, boycotting the nominations process. The Times Sunday (4 August 2013) reported voters were angry after being told by election officers that nominations had been moved to Othandweni Primary School and not Siweni Care Point, as earlier announced.

In Mzimnene, residents were unable to make nominations because they had not been told by the EBC where they should go. The same thing had happened in June when people were unable to register to vote. Elsewhere, equipment failures were blamed for the late opening of nomination centres across the Lubombo region. 

Missing church keys marred the nomination process at Moneni as officials from the EBC were forced to remain in their vehicles with the voting kit, as the Free Evangelical Assemblies Church remained closed. Church leaders said they were notified at very short notice that the church was to be used as a nomination centre. 

The Times of Swaziland (7 August 2013) reported some people who wanted to nominate candidates were prevented from doing so because electoral officers would not allow it, while some names of those who were nominated were then left off the EBC’s official list of candidates. It reported that some people who wanted to nominate candidates could not so because they failed to get the attention of the electoral officer. The process used required people to gather at a meeting place, often a kraal, and wait to be called by an electoral officer to make their nomination. At many places crowds were large and not everyone who wanted to make a nomination was spotted by the electoral officer.

Women were banned from being nominated to stand as a member of parliament because they wore trousers at the nomination centre. Mana Mavimbela, aged 18, was disqualified from putting her name forward at Lubulini Royal Kraal. The Times of Swaziland, (7 August 2013) reported the presiding officer Lindiwe Sukati refused to allow her to stand because Mavimbela was wearing a pair of black jean trousers and a golf T- shirt. Mavimbela later said police forced her to lie in her statement that she did not intend to stand for nomination. The police officers ordered her to say that she had been joking. Eventually, Mavimbela won a case at the High Court and the EBC was compelled to postpone the election in her chiefdom at Lubulini to allow her to stand.

Meanwhile, Fakazile Luhlanga of Ndvwabangeni in the Mhlangatane constituency was also not allowed permission to nominate a candidate as she was wearing cargo pants. The Times of Swaziland (6 August 2013) reported Luhlanga saying she was told that she was dressed like a man and would be a bad influence to the community members as they would want to emulate her. Some chiefs across Swaziland imposed the ban on women wearing trousers, shorts or mini-skirts at nomination centres. Chief Petros Dvuba of Mpolonjeni in Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital, said people who would be going to the nominations should dress properly and show respect as it was King Mswati III’s exercise. He told the Times of Swaziland (2 August 2013), ‘Even those who have relaxed hair should cover their heads when going to that place.’

A chief’s headman at Ludzibini, ruled by Chief Magudvulela a former Swazi Senator, threatened that people would be banished from their homes if they nominated a widow for the election. Dumisani Dlamini warned residents that if they voted for Jennifer du Pont they would be evicted from the area. The Times Sunday (4 August 2013) reported, ‘He warned that those who would nominate her should be prepared to relocate to areas as distant as five chiefdoms away. Her sin was that she attended the nominations only a few months after her husband died.’ He said she should still be mourning her husband. The newspaper reported du Pont did not wear standard black mourning gowns and was dressed in a blue wrap-around dress known as sidvwashi. Enough people in the chiefdom defied Dlamini and du Pont was duly nominated.

There was confusion over the status of nine cabinet ministers who were nominated. The Times of Swaziland (8 August 2013) reported they could be disqualified from taking part in the election because they held public office and this was not allowed under the Constitution. The confusion was made worse because it was uncertain whether technically the nine were still cabinet ministers. Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini told the newspaper that ministers were not supposed to stand for nomination if they were still in office – as the nine maintained.

‘Their nomination was irregular because a Cabinet office is a public office. If anyone can challenge their nomination in court they (challenger) can be successful,’ the newspaper reported him saying. He added, ‘That is why even police officers and other members of the security forces as well as any government employee have to resign or apply for leave of absence in order to stand for the elections because they are in public office. They (ministers) ought to have also resigned from office so as to be eligible to stand.’

In a major blunder some people had to nominate candidates for a second time after the EBC erroneously combined two election districts. When the mistake was discovered the EBC ordered the people of Njabulweni, near Lubhuku, in the Dvokodvweni Constituency, to nominate again. The Times of Swaziland (14 August 2013) reported that Njabulweni and Malindza were combined for the nominations, although they should have been separate.

Richard Rooney

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