The first round of voting at Swaziland’s national election was marred by reports of inefficiency and fear of vote-rigging. Many polling stations opened or closed late and some people were unable to cast votes.
Swaziland, recently renamed Eswatini by its absolute monarch King Mswati III, is a small kingdom with a population of about 1.1 million. On Saturday (25 August 2018) they went to vote at more than 400 polling stations across 59 constituencies.
The kingdom’s two national newspaper groups the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer reported extensively.
Voters at Lobamba Lomdzala feared vote rigging because ballot papers from the polling station at Bethany Primary School had to be taken to Mahlanya Primary for counting. The car ferrying the ballot box was not escorted by police.
The Swazi Observer reported on Monday (27 August 2018), ‘This resulted to the people complaining that it took almost an hour to ferry the results from Bethany to the destined area of counting.’
It added that both witnesses and members of the media were excluded from the polling station during counting. ‘Senior members from EBC (Elections and Boundaries Commission) had to be called as the witnesses wanted to regain entry and they eventually did after consultations were made, having spent half an hour outside.’
There was confusion at KaMethula, a newly created constituency, and many people were unclear where they had to vote. Some decided not to vote at all. Others ‘were forced to run from pillar to post trying to get to the correct right polling station’, the Swazi Observer reported.
Polls were expected to be open from 7.00 am to 7.00 pm. The Sunday Observer reported that ‘most polling stations’ failed to meet the 7.00 pm deadline to clear all voters.
‘As a result, some polling stations extended their deadlines so to accommodate all voters,’ it said.
It also reported, ‘painfully slow queues coupled with tedious voter information verification drills’.
At Nkwene and Ebenezer (Mtsambama), after 7.00 pm more than 100 voters were still queuing. Polling officers allowed them to vote. Some of those who came late to the voting station said they were from digging graves for funerals while some claimed to be from work.
Elsewhere voters complained that polling stations opened late in the morning and they had to queue for hours.
Inside polling stations there were delays caused by the manual system of voter verification. In many places senior citizens were allowed to go through to cast their vote earlier than the rest.
Voters could not cast their votes on time at Gilgal Inkhundla as two polling stations Phonjwane and Duze ran out of ballot papers around 9.00 am. Voters had to wait for over three hours for ballot papers to arrive while others decided to leave.
Voters at Ka-laMgabhi chiefdom, Hhukwini Constituency, were left frustrated due to the long queues at Lamgabhi Primary School polling station. Voting began half an hour late because ballots papers were not available on time. Hundreds of voters stood in the scorching sun waiting to cast their votes.
Voting at Mayiwane was delayed as Pigg’s Peak police failed to designate police officers promptly to secure a polling station at Mkhuzweni. Chief Police Information and Communications Officer Superintendent Khulani Mamba confirmed the delay. Voting began at 10.00 am.
Two women reportedly collapsed before they could cast their vote at Mtfongwaneni. They were squeezed by the many voters who had come to cast votes as they scrambled to gain entry to the polling station. People had been waiting several hours to cast their vote.
Last week the Times of Swaziland reported that the EBC had engaged 6,760 people to work as polling officers earning a daily rate of E250. In Swaziland seven in ten people live on incomes less than E30 a day.
Swaziland was going to the polls in the first round of national and community elections. The final vote takes place on 21 September 2018. Political parties are banned from taking part in the elections and King Mswati appoints the Prime Minister and Government.
Chaos and Violence Reported Across Swaziland as Voters go to the Polls
Organised Certainty, Why elections in Swaziland are not democratic
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