A workshop in Swaziland on the forthcoming election was banned because it was deemed illegal.
More than 30 young people and community leaders from across the kingdom were turned away from the Castle Hotel in Mbabane on Friday (16 March 2018). The workshop was reportedly supported by the Elections and Boundaries Commission and the Swaziland National Youth Council.
The Sunday Observer reported (18 March 2018) ‘The organisers of the event said they had received instructions from labadzala who could not be named that they should cancel the seminar because they had not obtained permission for hosting it.’ Labadzala refers to Royal elders.
Elections are due in 2018 at a date yet to be set. King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are not allowed to contest in elections and people and groups that advocate for democratic reform are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. The King chooses the Prime Minister and top government ministers. In Swaziland, people only get to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chooses the other 10. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King chooses 20 and the other 10 are elected by members of the House of Assembly.
Freedom of assembly is severely curtailed in Swaziland, especially in the run-up to elections. In 2013, before the most recent election, armed police stopped an election workshop organised by the Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organisation, also known as Luvatsi, at a Pentecostal Church in Sidvokodvo. The police had no warrant or court order, but were acting on instructions of their station commander, local media reported.
This was not the only example of people being prevented freely discussing issues in the run up to the election. The NGOs Election Network which operates under the Swazi-based Coordinating Assembly of Non-governmental Organisations (CANGO) and which observed the polls said in a report, ‘Civil society meetings were crushed, including prayer meetings.’
It added, ‘With no enjoyment of the rights to access information and also exchange information, freedom to associate, freedom of movement and freedom of speech it has become difficult for citizens to canvass issues.’
An election rally organised by the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) at Msunduza Township, Mbabane, in April 2013 was broken up by police and organisers charged with sedition. Swazi Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula had warned SWAYOCO in advance that his officers would stop any attempt at meeting.
In a statement carried by media in Swaziland the police chief said, ‘As a police service and organ of state responsible for internal security and maintenance of law and order, we wish to state it in no uncertain terms that the political rally planned by SWAYOCO for April 19, 2013 will not be allowed to take place.’
He added, ‘[I]t is unthinkable that an event whose agenda includes sabotaging the forthcoming national elections can be allowed to take place.’
SWAYOCO is the youth wing of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the best-known opposition group in Swaziland. Both have been branded ‘terrorist’ organisations and banned by King Mswati’s government.
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