Monday, September 3, 2018

Swaziland’s Independent Observation Group Says Election ‘Free And Fair’ But Identifies Many Shortcomings

The Coordinating Assembly of NGOs (CANGO) which led 10 local groups as an Elections Network to observe the first round of Swaziland’s election found a list of shortcomings including voter bribery, illegal voting, late opening of polling stations, poor IT facilities and drunkenness.

Nonetheless, it concluded the polls known as the Primary Election, ‘were held peacefully and were undertaken in an atmosphere that is free and fair’.

CANGO had 120 observers visit 170 polling stations across 44 of 59 constituencies in Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by the kingdom’s absolute monarch King Mswati III) for the national and community elections on 24 August 2018.

In its report it identified ‘the most urgent issue’ was in Nkilongo where a candidate who was not eligible to contest one of the community offices stood and received 69 votes. A formal complaint by rival candidates has been lodged with the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

CANGO also noted that ‘a lot of polling stations opened late’ especially in Siphofaneni, Hlutse, Phonjwane and some other areas in the Hhohho region. The delay was caused by late delivery of ballot materials. Some polling stations opened five hours late.

Other polling stations such as Mphundle High school in Matsanjeni North opened late because there was no electricity. In Ekuphakameni High School polling station the delay was caused by the late arrival of election officials. In other areas including Bethany Mission Primary School the delay was caused by the absence of nominees and their agents who were supposed to be there to view the sealing of the ballot boxes. 

In Shewula voting was stopped for an hour later in the day because there was no electricity.

CANGO reported, ‘Delays lead to disgruntled voters who then turn away from polling stations due to frustrations.’

At Somnjalose High School polling officers failed to balance the numbers of used and unused ballot papers. CANGO said some people might have been given two ballot papers. 

CANGO noted that many voters across Swaziland were seen trying to take photos of their ballot papers. It stated the illegal practice could be linked to voter bribery or extortion.

CANGO doubted that all presiding officers at polling stations were capable of doing their job properly. It stated, ‘Most presiding offers, polling officers generally seemed well versed in most polling stations in terms of the steps undertaken to set up polling stations, registration of serial numbers for ballot papers and ensuring that all polling stations guarantee the secrecy of the vote. However some presiding and polling officers still need to be capacitated on electoral procedures as seen in Phonjwane where procedure was flaunted as people casted their ballot only for the Bucopho position due to late arrival of other ballot materials for the two other positions.’ 
It noted that most of the presiding officers in the Lubombo region could not provide the number of registered voters for that particular polling station. It said that while some polling stations had the IT support, other polling stations did not. 

Most presiding officers struggled to seal ballot boxes. CANGO reported, ‘Poor seals allow for the ballot boxes to be manipulated and damage the credibility of the results.’

The verification of voters was slow in most polling stations in the early hours of the day and this was caused by IT technical glitches delaying the process. In most of the polling stations, technical glitches were common with laptops freezing.  

Campaigning, which is illegal in Swaziland until after the primary was witnessed in Mfanyana Hall where a nominee agent was soliciting for votes.  The police were called to deal with the matter.

At Ngculwini in Mhubhe High School, material available that listed the candidates who were standing at the election was tampered with in an attempt to influence voters. At Mbekelweni high school, nominees and their agents were seen greeting every voter which was illegal. ‘One nominee even greeted one of CANGO observers and told the observer whom to cast her vote to without realising that she is an observer,’ CANGO reported.

CANGO said it observed a lot of campaigning on Whatsapp groups especially around the Hlatsi, Kambhoke, Khubutha areas. It added, ‘Attempts to influence voters were also seen around Ngonini Inkhundla where relatives of certain nominees were seen transporting eligible voters to polling stations. At Ngcoseni High School polling station, a lot of voters were seen receiving varying vegetables from tomatoes, cabbages, onions etc. and it was not clear whether they were being sold and or were gifts meant to influence voters. When observers sought more information, the process of handing the cabbages was abruptly stopped and no information could be obtained.’

Some members of CANGO’s independent election observation team were asked to sign secrecy forms and were denied access to polling stations if they did not do so. They were told they had to go to the police to declare an oath.

CANGO stated, ‘EBC should clearly communicate to all polling stations that observers only sign the visitor’s book to limit misunderstandings as the country will now be joined by other regional observer missions like SADC EOM and such confusion will not paint a good image for the country.’

Fights outside polling stations were witnessed but CANGO reported these were not related to the elections but were ‘normally misunderstandings between highly intoxicated individuals standing nearby polling stations’.   

At Nkhaba Old Inkhundla polling station and Matsanjeni South the paramilitary police OSSU were called to calm the situation where voters blocked the exit of electoral officials who were transporting ballot papers to a central command place where counting could take place. 

Elections in Swaziland are generally recognised outside of the kingdom as undemocratic. Political parties are banned from taking part and King Mswati appoints the Prime Minister and Government. People are only allowed to elect 59 members of the House of Assembly, another 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.

The final round of voting (the Secondary Election) takes place on 21 September 2018.

See also

Polling Station Riot and Fresh Accusations of Vote-Rigging Reported at Swaziland Election

Fears Grow of Vote-Rigging and Malpractice in Swaziland Election. Ballot Boxes Not Properly Sealed

Independent Election Observers in Swaziland Barred From Some Polling Stations, Told to Sign Secrecy Forms

First Round of Swaziland Election Marred by Inefficiency and Fear of Vote-Rigging

Chaos and Violence Reported Across Swaziland as Voters go to the Polls

Organised Certainty, Why elections in Swaziland are not democratic

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