Independent observers at Swaziland’s elections were refused access to some polling stations until they had signed secrecy forms restricting what they could report.
They were told to get the form endorsed by the police.
It happened during the first round of the election in Swaziland () on Saturday (25 August 2018).
The Eswatini Elections Support Network which operates under the auspices of the Coordinating Assembly of NGOs (CANGO) reported on Monday (27 August 2018) that its designated observers were denied access at five polling stations.
In its official report of the election CANGO said it happened mainly in the Hhohho region. It said observers were denied access and ‘were asked to take the secrecy form and have it endorsed by a commissioner of oaths in this case the Royal Eswatini Police Service’.
The report added, ‘The network is concerned about this matter as all electoral observers are expected to sign the visitors book not secrecy forms as the mission is an independent assessment of the national elections.’
The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has yet to comment on the ban. A number of international organisations have been invited to send observers for the final round of elections due on 21 September 2018. The EBC reported that at the last election in 2013 more than 400 international and local observers were accredited. They included the Commonwealth, African Union, European Union, United States Embassy in Swaziland, German Consulate, Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), SADC Elections Observer Mission (SEOM), SADC Parliamentary Forum, SADC Lawyers Association, SADC Electoral Commissions Forum (ECF), SADC Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and CANGO.
The Eswatini Elections Support Network is made up of representatives from ten NGOs in Swaziland. It deployed 120 observers across 170 polling stations in 44 constituencies in all four regions of the kingdom.
Elections in Swaziland are . Political parties are banned from taking part and King Mswati appoints the Prime Minister and Government. People are only allowed to elect 59 members of the House of Assembly, another 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.
The European Union Election Experts Mission (EEM), in its report on the 2013 election, made much of how the kingdom’s absolute monarchy undermined democracy.
‘The King has absolute power and is considered to be above the law, including the , 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.
‘The King will refer back the provisions he is not in agreement with, which makes the parliament and its elected chamber, the House of Assembly, ineffective, unable to achieve the objective a parliament is created for: to be the legislative branch of the state and maintain the government under scrutiny.’
The EEM went on to say the ‘main principles for a democratic state are not in place’ in Swaziland.
The EEM was not alone in recognising Swaziland as undemocratic. In its report on conduct of the 2013 election, the African Union (AU) mission called for fundamental changes 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 , 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.’
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