A campaign of misinformation has begun in Swaziland to convince people that it is a democratic kingdom when it is not.
King Mswati III, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has urged people to vote at next year’s national election to pick their own leader.
The King’s message was delivered by Chief Gija Dlamini, Chairperson of the Elections and Boundaries Commission.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported Dlamini saying on behalf of the King, ‘If any Swazi fails to register to vote for the upcoming 2018 national elections then they are abandoning their basic right of choosing their own leader, thus hurting the whole Kingdom in the process because they would be silencing their own voice because voting unites the kingdom and gives all people a voice and a chance to be counted, but most fundamentally of all, Swazis through voting, have the right to choose who they feel will lead them to the future.’
Dlamini made the comments at a consultative meeting on civic education for traditional leaders at Pigg’s Peakon 2 February 2017.
However, he misled his audience because in Swaziland political parties are not allowed to contest elections and groups that advocate for democracy in the kingdom are banned under The Suppression of Terrorism Act.
The Swazi people have no say in who their leaders are. They are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, the other 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swaziland Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.
The King choses the Prime Minister and cabinet members. Only a man with the surname Dlamini can, by tradition, be appointed as Prime Minister. The King is a Dlamini.
He also choses senior civil servants and top judges. The elections have no real purpose other than to give King Mswati a fig leaf of democracy. The King is in control of Swaziland ahead of the 2018 election and he will be in control after it, regardless of which individuals the people vote into the House of Assembly.
The Swazi Parliament has no powers. King Mswati can, and does, overrule decisions he does not like. This was the case 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.
Elections are held every five years in Swaziland. After the last one in 2013 a number of groups who had been official observers of the process reported the election was not free and fair.
The official report of the Commonwealth Observer Mission called for a review of the kingdom’s constitution. It said members of parliament ‘continue to have severely limited powers’ and political parties are banned.
The Commonwealth observers said there was ‘considerable room for improving the democratic system’.
They called for King Mswati’s powers to be reduced. ‘The presence of the monarch in everyday political life inevitably associates the institution of monarchy with politics, a situation that runs counter to the development that the re-establishment of the Parliament and the devolution of executive authority into the hands of elected officials.’
The report said the constitution needed to be revisited with an open debate on what changes were necessary.
It added, ‘This should ideally be carried out through a fully inclusive, consultative process with all Swazi political organisations and civil society (if needed, with the help of constitutional experts.’
The African Union (AU) also 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.’
The AU called on Swaziland to implement the African Commission’s Resolution
on Swaziland in 2012 that called on the Government, ‘to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly.’
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