Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Swaziland absolute king declares national election ‘success’ but full results not released

King Mswati III, the absolute king of Swaziland / eSwatini, has declared last September’s national election in his kingdom a ‘success’, even though the full results have never been published.

The King told the state opening of parliament on Friday (8 February 2019) there was ‘over 60 percent’ voter turnout. 

However, there is no way to confirm this because the Kingdom’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has not published the full results, nearly five months after the poll.

After the House of Assembly election took place on 21 September 2018 the EBC promptly announced the winners at the 59 constituencies (known as tinkhundla) but no break-down giving the number of votes cast for each candidate has been released.

This is not new in Swaziland: the full results of the previous election held in 2013 have never been published.

In Swaziland, political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the people are only allowed to select 59 members of the House of Assembly; the King appoints a further 10. No members of the 30-strong Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 members and the House of Assembly elects 10. Following the election King Mswati appointed six members of his Royal Family to the House of Assembly and eight members to the Senate.

He also appointed a Prime Minister in contravention of the Swazi Constitution.

The EBC has not released the results of the House of Assembly election, although they are known. The two national newspapers in Swaziland published some results from individual tinkhundla as they were announced on the night of the election. 

The EBC has the capacity to publish the results. After the first round of the election (known as the Primary Election) on 24 August 2018, the EBC uploaded on its website all the results. An analysis of that data discovered a total of 156,973 people voted for members of the House of Assembly at the Primary Election; 28.83 percent of those who had registered.

In June 2018 after revising the figure the EBC announced that 544,310 people had registered to vote. It said earlier that 600,000 people in the kingdom were eligible to register. This meant, according to EBC figures, that 90.7 percent of eligible people had done so. The EBC figure was questioned after allegations were made of election law breaking. No copy of the national electoral roll was made public.

The size of the turnout in the Primary Election is important as voting is the only way people in Swaziland have to demonstrate their support (or lack of it) for the political system. In 1973, King Sobhuza II tore up the constitution, banned political parties and began to rule by decree. Although a new constitution came into effect in 2006, little has changed and King Sobhuza’s son King Mswati III continues to rule as an absolute monarch. Political opposition is banned in Swaziland and those who campaign for democracy are often charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The voting figures for the Primary Election suggested a lack of support for the political process. The results of the primary Election have since been removed from the EBC website.

The final round of the election (known as the Secondary Election) was marred by violence and accusations of bribery, vote-rigging and other malpractice.
Following the election the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) reported the ‘legitimacy and credibility’ of the election was ‘significantly hampered’ because political parties were banned. It said the King had ‘excessive powers’ in the appointment of the Government, Parliament and the judiciary.

In its report the HRC said, ‘The legitimacy and credibility of the elections was significantly hampered by the design of the electoral mechanisms as a culture of political pluralism is lacking. There is no freedom of genuine and pluralistic political debate, political parties are unable to register, contest elections, field candidates or otherwise participate in the formation of a Government.’

In its election report the African Union (AU) called on Swaziland to end the ban on political parties. AU mission head James Michel, the former Seychelles president, said, ‘The mission encourages the eSwatini authorities to consider reviewing the 1973 decree on the ban on political parties and allow them to freely participate in the election.’ 

The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Election Observation Mission in its report said the election had been successful, ‘in line with the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini, and the guiding Legal Framework’. Unlike the AU, it did not have a mandate to consider whether Swaziland was a democracy.

The Eswatini Elections Support Network which operates under the auspices of the Coordinating Assembly of NGOs (CANGO) made no comment about the election being ‘free and fair’.

Richard Rooney

See also

Swaziland election observer groups say vote was ‘peaceful’ but fall short of ‘free and fair’

Violence, corruption, vote-buying reported in Swaziland election. Journalists barred from entering counting centres

Swaziland (Eswatini) Election 2018: Links to Information and Analysis From Swazi Media Commentary

Organised Certainty, Why elections in Swaziland are not democratic

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