Ngomuyayona Gamedze, a candidate for the vacant seat in the Swaziland (eSwatini) Senate, has withdrawn from the race and says he was asked to pay bribes to secure votes.
In Swaziland the people do not elect the 30 members of the Senate; 20 are appointed by absolute monarch King Mswati III and the others are elected by members of the House of Assembly.
This is not the first time allegations of bribery during Senate elections have been made.
A seat became vacant after the death of Senator Mike Temple last year. Gamedze, a former deputy Senate president, was one of five candidates.
Gamedze wrote to the Returning Officer, the Clerk to Parliament Ndvuna Dlamini, saying ‘the election is open to the highest bidder’.
He wrote, ‘I am of the opinion that the election will consequently not be fair, just and in national interest. I therefore find myself with no option but to hereby respectfully withdraw my candidacy for the election of a senator.’
In an interview with the Swaziland News, an online newspaper, Gamedze said he had been asked to pay for votes. ‘Anyone who aspires to take over the Senate must be prepared to pay not less than 15 MPs [members of the House of Assembly], E20,000 each (US$1,200), minimum totalling E300,000.’
There were many reports of alleged bribery during the last Senate election in 2018. Police were called after votes were said to have been sold for between E20,000 and E40,000. The Times of Swaziland reported at the time the bribery allegations came to light after one unsuccessful Senate candidate whom it did not name demanded her money back from members of the House of Assembly.
The Observer on Sunday newspaper, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, said in an editorial comment in October 2018, ‘It is now an open secret that the 10 seats available for Senate, to be chosen by the MPs, are now sold to the highest bidder.’
Vusi Kunene, a columnist for the Times of Swaziland, criticised Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission for not taking action. ‘That it is no longer a secret that there is a lot of vote buying and the institution, which is supposed to guard against such, is silent, is worrying.’
The buying of Senate seats in Swaziland is common. In the run-up to the election Ncumbi Maziya, a Commissioner at the EBC, told a workshop for election candidates that members of parliament
in August 2018, ‘He said parliamentarians are the most corrupt people. He said he has since gathered that parliamentarians are swindling money from people who want to make it into Senate.’
It added, ‘Maziya said he learnt that people are made to fork out money amounting to E60,000 if they want to get a vote to be elected into Senate. “If you have no money you won’t make it into Senate,” Maziya stated.’
The election for the vacant Senate seat was expected to be concluded on Monday (27 July 2020).
Swaziland King appoints eight of his family to Senate amid reports of widespread vote buying elsewhere