Tuesday, June 4, 2013


King Mswati III of Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has announced the controversial elections to the House of Assembly in his kingdom will be held on 20 September.

The ‘primary’ elections will take place on 24 August 2013.

In Swaziland political parties are banned from taking part in the elections. Only 55 of the 65 members of the House are chosen by the electorate: the other 10 are selected by the king. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected: of 30 seats, 20 are appointed by the king and the other 10 are chosen by members of the House of Assembly.

Swaziland is broken up into 55 tinkhundla or administrative districts and each of these makes up one constituency in the House of Assembly. One Member of Parliament is elected from each inkhundla at the secondary election.

This is how the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, explained the election process at the last poll in 2008. 

Nominations: This is done at the Imiphakatsi (chiefdoms) regardless of whether there is a chief or not. A minimum of four people to a maximum of 10, are nominated. 15 registered voters should second each nominee. After being seconded he must express his willingness to represent the people at a higher level.

‘These nominees will then go for Primary elections, where out of the four in some cases or the 10 in others, one must come out victorious. These are still conducted at the Imiphakatsi. The winners will then represent their Imiphakatsi in the election for constituency representatives MPs.

Campaigning: It is in this stage that campaigning is then allowed. The Primaries winners are then taken to all the Imiphakatsi under that constituency and campaign publicly fielding questions asked as well as tell the people what he has in store for them. Only one person must come out the winner, so he can go for Secondary elections.

Secondary elections: These are the final elections where winners will then go to Parliament to represent their constituencies.’

The Observer did not point out that this process is controversial because of the amount of power it gives chiefs over the selection of candidates. Chiefs are the representative of the king in their chiefdoms.

The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) in itsobserver mission report on the last election in 2008, stated, ‘The chiefdoms serve as a nomination base for the primary elections for the secondary phases. Here the chiefs have used their power to influence the nomination and election of candidates in the primary election in a way that is in conflict with basic democratic values and practices. They are in a position to coerce the voters.

‘The grouping of the chiefdoms into an inkhundla necessarily and unavoidably advantages candidates from chiefdoms with large populations over those with small ones.

‘Currently an inkhundla is established by the King on the recommendation of the Elections and Boundaries Commission.’

A campaign by prodemocracy groups to boycott the 2013 election is growing in Swaziland. At the 2008 election there was some evidence that a boycott might have been successful as only 189,559 people actually voted in the secondary election out of 350,778 people who registered to vote. 

In 2013, the Elections and Boundaries Commission estimates 600,000 people are eligible to vote in the forthcoming elections.

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