Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) says that more than 90 percent of those eligible have registered to vote, amid claims of corruption and vote rigging.
Registration was extended by 12 days at the end of June 2018 and 18,237 people registered during that time.
A total of 544,310 from 600,000 (90.7 percent) eligible registered, according to official figures. The figures compare to 414,704 who registered at the last election in 2013. Of these, 251,278 people voted.
Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III one of the world’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are barred from taking part in elections.
Elections in Swaziland are widely recognised outside of the kingdom as undemocratic. Parliament has no powers as these are vested in the King. 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.
No members of the 30-member Senate are elected by the people.
The EBC registration figures have been disputed by veteran Swaziland journalist Ackel Zwane. Writing in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, on Friday (6 July 2018) he said there had been ‘blatant breaking of the electoral law’ and the EBC had deliberately ignored this.
He wrote, ‘The law succinctly prescribes that there must be proof of residence at registration, but the EBC has been inflating figures of registered voters in the country’s malls and population centres without requiring proof of residence.’
He added, ‘The figures have now been inflated with non-qualifying elements registering to vote, all because there is no efficient system to prune out the frauds.’
Zwane wrote, ‘It is at these stages that an election loses its credibility.’
He said election law required people registering to vote in urban areas to produce evidence of their Swazi citizenship or permanent residence. ‘Nothing of this requirement was met at the registration points around the malls and shopping complexes throughout the country.’
He added, ‘Now this has opened floodgates to the elections mafia who are able to manipulate these loopholes by registering as many foreigners as possible, especially impoverished Mozambicans who freely roam Eswatini [Swaziland] without requiring any papers to remain in the country.
‘Similarly, the Asian community has joined the bandwagon to push up the figures, not to mention the South Africans from porous borders in the north, south and west, who come in and out as they wished to cast a vote in exchange for a beer or two.’
Zwane said it would be impossible to verify the electoral roll ahead of voting. ‘The individual citizens do not possess the ability and resources to undertake the cumbersome task of identifying each individual voter in a particular area whether authentic or fraudulent. Even the EBC does not have the resources, skill and time to do this, otherwise they would have prevented the crises at registration.’
During the registration period there were many media reports of incompetence, corruption and nepotism. When registration began 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. 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.
DOUBTS ELECTION BOARD IS COMPETENT
PEOPLE NOT ELECTING THEIR GOVERNMENT
CHORUS AGAINST UNDEMOCRATIC ELECTION GROWS
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