Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Six of eight government ministers standing in the House of Assembly election in Swaziland on Friday (20 September 2013) were defeated. Of the 55 members of the House standing for re-election, 43 lost. 

It looks like a massive vote of no confidence in the outgoing parliament. But, who knows? It is impossible to make conclusions of these results because, in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, all public debate of politics is prohibited.

Political parties are not allowed to take part in the election and any discussion prior to the poll that questioned the validity of what King Mswati and his supporters like to call Swaziland’s ‘unique democracy’ was suppressed by police and state security forces. 

According to the Swaziland Constitution, all MPs are elected as individuals to serve their local constituency. This meant that at the election candidates could only make promises (many empty) about the ‘development’ they would bring to their constituents if elected. There was no debate about which social, political or economic policies a new government should pursue. 

Voters do not choose a government: that is the prerogative of the king. He is not obliged to choose his ministers from among those people selected by his subjects. It would be no surprise when he announces his new government next month that he returns to office some of the ministers defeated at this election.

Media in Swaziland, which are heavily censored, or self-censoring in favour of the monarchy, reported the election result as if it were a vote of no-confidence against the out-going government.  

But, they provided no evidence for this. The media in Swaziland want it both ways. On the one hand they say that under Swaziland’s tinkhundla system of government the people elect MPs as individuals who support their constituencies and on the other they say the people have elected a group of MPs who they believe collectively will bring them change. 

We do not know if the people really seek ‘change’ because there is nowhere in Swaziland where they can freely debate the strengths and weaknesses of the present system of governance and discuss possible alternatives. Certainly, the media do not provide that space.

No media outlet in the kingdom has suggested that if people have voted for change it might be a change in the political system and a move to democracy that they seek.

What is certain is that the election will not actually bring change. In Swaziland only 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly are elected by the people. King Mswati appoints the other ten members. None of the 30-strong Swazi Senate is elected by the people; the king appoints 20 senators and the House of Assembly elects the other ten.

Parliament has no power, it acts for King Mswati. He can and does overrule any decision parliament makes if he disagrees with it. This happened most starkly in October 2012 when the king refused to accept a vote of no confidence passed by the House of Assembly on his government, even though he was obliged by the constitution to do so.  

The truth is that the voters could dismiss all 55 of their elected members of the House of Assembly and replace them with 55 other individuals and nothing would change, unless the king approved and there is no reason to believe he is ready to give up his power and privileges anytime soon.

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