Wednesday, June 20, 2018


King Mswati III Swaziland’s absolute monarch has extended voter registration in his kingdom for another 11 days even though the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) announced 87 percent of eligible voters had registered by the deadline on Sunday (17 June 2018).

EBC chair Chief Gija Dlamini said the King had done this following reports that there had been a high turnout on the final day. He did not disclose how many people registered on the final day. 

On the day registration ended the Sunday Observer a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati reported the EBC saying that as of 16 June 2018 ‘over 590,000 voters were registered’.

On Monday after registration closed the EBC announced that 526,073 people had registered to vote for the election in September, about 70,000 fewer than it had reported previously. The Swazi Observer, also owned by the King, reported on Tuesday the number registering was ‘unprecedented’. It said it represented 87 percent of those entitled to vote. 

At the last election in 2013, 414,704 people registered to vote according to the EBC’s election report published in 2017. This contradicted the number of 411,084 it had released at the time of registration.

The EBC said on Tuesday it could not give a date when the voters’ roll would be available for public inspection but gave no reason.

The King’s order and the EBC misrepresentation of registration numbers throws doubt over the election that is widely considered outside of Swaziland to be undemocratic.

Throughout the registration period there have been reports of incompetence, corruption and nepotism. Police are to vet all nominated candidates ahead of the vote.

There is confusion about how many people are eligible to vote in the election. When the process started on 13 May 2018 the EBC said it was 500,000, later after public scepticism about the figure’s accuracy it increased the number to 600,000. The EBC said it based its figure on the 2017 population census in Swaziland that put the number of people living in the kingdom aged 18 and over (the voting age) at 625,629. Data published by CIA Factbook based on 2017 figures puts the estimated population at 1.4 million and suggests the number of voters is between 700,000 and 800,000.

The EBC has a history of poor performance since it was inaugurated in 2008. It took four years for it to produce its official report on the last election in 2013 and it has still not published the full results. The winners in each constituency have been announced but the number of votes cast for each candidate competing have not.

When registration began this year equipment was not in place at all centres and trained election personnel were not always available and there were many reports of computer failures. A toll-free line available for people to report grievances and challenges they met at registration centres failed to work on MTN mobile phone numbers. Many people did not receive voter cards after registering, leaving them in doubt that they would be able to cast their vote.

Reports of attempted bribery were rife across the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and political parties are banned from taking part in elections. Elections in Swaziland are widely regarded as not democratic by observers outside the kingdom. The King choses the Prime Minister and government ministers and the parliament has no powers as these rest with the King. 

At Maphungwane in the Matsanjeni North Constituency football teams rejected a E10,000 (US$790) sponsorship from an aspiring member of parliament. The Swazi Observer reported (18 May 2018) that the sponsorship was in the form of prize money that would be paid at the end of the football season and after the election had been held.

The newspaper reported the clubs’ representatives questioned the timing of the sponsorship and rejected the offer. One club boss told the Observer that aspiring MPs had also tried to manipulate them in the past.

There was a report that police in Swaziland were investigating possible election corruption concerning a former government minister accused of bribing people with promises of food parcels for their votes. 

Poverty-stricken textile workers said they sold their votes for cash and chicken pieces. The Swazi Observer reported sitting members of parliament had sent their agents into factories to buy up votes in the industrial town of Matsapha. People said they were persuaded to register as residents of the surrounding areas as opposed to their chiefdoms of origin. 

Other textile workers in Nhlangano said groups of 50 or 60 of them had been given free lunches by sponsors of people keen to win seats in parliament. They also said transport costs to and from work had been paid. The Swazi Observer reported on Friday (15 June 2018) that some outgoing MPs were involved.

Residents at Mbangweni complained of nepotism when four people selected to assist in the election were from the same family. The Swazi Observer reported Inkhosatana Gelane, the acting KoNtshingila chief, saying they were ‘loyal and respectful residents’. 

Many residents in areas including Engwenyameni, Madadeni, and Lavumisa, said they would boycott the election because they were dissatisfied with how constituency boundaries had been drawn. 

Days before registration closed EBC Chair Chief Gija Dlamini told media that all persons nominated for election would be vetted by police. 

At past elections people only got to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chose the other 10. At this 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.

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