Swazi polls free, fair and ‘pointless’
Swaziland - Swaziland’s elections were conducted without notable incidents marring the balloting this week, in what critics call a “window dressing” exercise to select palace-approved candidates for a parliament which has no real power.
Pro-democracy candidates were careful to hide their political beliefs during the campaign and instead to talk about local issues of concern to the country’s 55 constituencies.
“The turn-out is good and the voting is running smoothly,” said a Southern African Development Community (SADC) election monitor who declined to give her name.
It is not clear if international elections observers will judge the election solely in accordance of Swaziland’s election laws, or also in terms of regional guidelines. Swazi laws ban political parties from participating. Candidates are required to run as “individuals”.
However, last Sunday the head of the SADC election monitoring mission, Namibian Foreign Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, said her observers would be “guided by various instruments which include the SADC Treaty, the SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation, as well the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.” Though she didn’t mention that, the guidelines governing democratic elections include the right to “freedom of association”, which is generally taken to mean the right to form political parties.
The guidelines also assume this right because, without explicitly upholding the right of SADC citizens to form political parties, they do enshrine, for example, the right of political parties to equal access to state media.
But Mandla Magongo, a voter in the Kwaluseni district that is home to the University of Swaziland, said yesterday: “As the election observers from the European Union noted two elections ago, this election will be ‘free, fair and pointless’.
“The palace wants a Tower of Babel in parliament where 55 people with no uniformed political ideology say whatever they like. The king knows that without organisation, political ideas cannot move forward,” he said.
Other political observers have noted that the Swaziland elections are popularity contests where candidates who succeed are well known in their areas, or give the largest gifts and payouts to voters.
Some polling stations opened hours late due to a lack of ballots.
Scuffles erupted between candidates’ agents, and voters were expelled from one Mbabane polling station by police after an incident of pushing and shouting.
Nine people were hospitalised in the southern provincial capital Nhlangano, when voters pushed their way into a late-opening polling station. A snake was found in a truck bearing ballot boxes in Mbabane, prompting panic at a polling station. The snake was killed by police.
A dead body was found next to a rural polling station at a chief’s residence, alarming voters. The deceased was identified as the chief’s nephew.
None of these incidents were considered serious by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) which conducted the polling.
The EBC expressed satisfaction at the polling. Results were scheduled to be announced yesterday.
King Mswati will appoint 10 MPs to look after royal interests in the House of Assembly and 20 of the House of Senate’s 30 members. The remaining 10 will be selected by the House of Assembly from the ranks of elected and appointed MPs. No Senate member is voted into office by the public. Mswati will then select among his own clan, the Dlaminis, a prime minister. Mswati and the Queen Mother will appoint the remaining cabinet members and all high government office holders.