Saturday, June 9, 2018


The national election announced in Swaziland / Eswatini for 21 September 2018 will not give people the opportunity to elect a government. Political parties are banned from taking part and the poll is an exercise to entrench King Mswati III’s position as absolute monarch.

After the election, the King will chose the Prime Minister, government ministers and the top civil servants and judges. At past elections people only got to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chose the other 10. At the forthcoming election there will be an additional four seats for people to vote for. It has not been announced how many members the King will choose but the Swaziland Constitution allows him to pick up to ten.

As in previous years, none of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate will be elected by the people; the King will choose 20 and the other 10 will be chosen by members of the House of Assembly.

The political system which only allows people to vote for individuals and not parties has traditionally been known as tinkhundla. In 2013 King Mswati changed the name to Monarchical Democracy. Whatever they are called, international observers have for many years recognized the elections that are held every five years are illegitimate.

The Institute for Security Studies in 2012 said tinkhundla elections could essentially be defined as ‘organised certainty’, since they reproduced the prevailing political status quo in Swaziland. It went on to say, ‘The ruling regime enjoys an unchallenged monopoly over state resources, and elections have increasingly become arenas for competition over patronage and not policy.

This view is not confined to the ISS. The 2013 election observation report of the Commonwealth Expert Team questioned the elections’ credibility because they resulted in ‘a Parliament which does not have power’, because of the ban on political parties.

The United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a report on Swaziland in 2013 said there was no effective democracy in Swaziland. ‘The King has the power summarily to appoint and dismiss ministers, all parliamentary candidates require the approval of their chief (who is dependent on the monarch for wealth and power) and while political parties are not forbidden, they are banned from participating in elections. All candidates must run as independents.’

The European Union Election Experts Mission (EEM), in its report on the 2013 election, made much of how the kingdom’s absolute monarchy undermined democracy.

In its report it stated, ‘The King has absolute power and is considered to be above the law, including the Constitution, enjoying the power to assent laws and immunity from criminal proceedings. A bill shall not become law unless the King has assented to it, meaning that the parliament is unable to pass any law which the King is in disagreement with.

‘The King will refer back the provisions he is not in agreement with, which makes the parliament and its elected chamber, the House of Assembly, ineffective, unable to achieve the objective a parliament is created for: to be the legislative branch of the state and maintain the government under scrutiny.’

The EEM went on to say the ‘main principles for a democratic state are not in place’ in Swaziland.

The EEM was not alone in recognising Swaziland as undemocratic. In its report on conduct of the 2013 election, the African Union (AU) mission called for fundamental changes to ensure people had freedom of speech and of assembly. The AU said the Swaziland Constitution guaranteed ‘fundamental rights and freedoms including the rights to freedom of association’, but in practice ‘rights with regard to political assembly and association are not fully enjoyed’. The AU said this was because political parties were not allowed to contest elections.

The AU 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’.

In its report on the 2013 elections, Commonwealth observers recommended that measures be put in place to ensure separation of powers between the government, parliament and the courts so that Swaziland was in line with its international commitments.

They also called on the Swaziland Constitution to be ‘revisited’. The report stated, ‘This should ideally be carried out through a fully inclusive, consultative process with all Swazi political organisations and civil society (needed, with the help of constitutional experts), to harmonise those provisions which are in conflict. The aim is to ensure that Swaziland’s commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal.’

Richard Rooney

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