Only half of the people eligible to vote at the national election in Swaziland / eSwatini in 2018 did so, official figures reveal.
A year after the election the full results of each individual constituency (known as tinkhundla) have not been publicly released. However, global figures on voting have been released by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the people are only allowed to select 59 of 69 seats in the House of Assembly. No members of the 30-strong Swazi Senate are elected by the people.
The statistics released show that 330,791 voted in the final round of elections (known as the secondary election). The EBC said that 650,000 people were eligible to vote. This meant only 50.8 percent of those eligible to vote did so.
The population of Swaziland is about 1.2 million.
The EBC stated that of the 650,000 people eligible, 546,784 people registered to vote. This meant that 215,993 people (nearly four in ten) who registered to vote did not do so in the secondary election.
The turnout in the election is important as voting is the only way people in Swaziland have of demonstrate their support (or lack of it) for the political system. In 1973, King Sobhuza II tore up the constitution, banned political parties and began to rule by decree. Although a new constitution came into effect in 2006, little has changed and King Sobhuza’s son King Mswati III continues to rule as an absolute monarch. Political opposition is banned in Swaziland and those who campaign for democracy are charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
The secondary election was marred by accusations of bribery, vote-rigging and other malpractice. There were also outbreaks of violence. Police fired gunshots, stun grenades and rubber bullets as voters at Sigwe protested against completed ballot papers being taken away from a polling centre. In Ndzingeni polling stations voters were dispersed using teargas during counting as voters threatened to enter the polling station where counting was taking place. APA news agency reported outbursts of violence started as early as noon time on election day and intensified in the evening when the counting of votes was about to resume.
Following the election the King appointed Ambrose Dlamini as Prime Minister and a cabinet of ministers in contravention of the Swaziland Constitution. He also appointed six members of his Royal Family to the House of Assembly and eight more to the Senate.
In a report on the election, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated the ‘legitimacy and credibility’ of the election was ‘significantly hampered’ because political parties were banned. The King had ‘excessive powers’ in the appointment of the Government, Parliament and the judiciary, it stated.
It added, ‘The legitimacy and credibility of the elections was significantly hampered by the design of the electoral mechanisms as a culture of political pluralism is lacking. There is no freedom of genuine and pluralistic political debate, political parties are unable to register, contest elections, field candidates or otherwise participate in the formation of a Government.’
Violence, corruption, vote-buying reported in Swaziland election. Journalists barred from entering counting centres
Swaziland (Eswatini) Election 2018: Links to Information and Analysis From Swazi Media Commentary