Newspapers in Swaziland seem determined to mislead their readers into believing they are voting for a government in the national election now taking place – they are not.
King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, chooses the government and takes no notice of who is elected by his subjects when doing so.
But newspapers are ignoring this reality. This week both the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer, the kingdom’s only two daily newspapers, ran articles claiming that the voters who turned out at the primary election on Saturday (24 August 2013) were electing a ‘government’.
Under the Swazi tinkhundla political system, which is enshrined in the kingdom’s constitution, political parties are banned from taking part in the election, so voters are not being given the chance to choose one set of policies over another.
Instead, the Swazi people are given a limited choice only to elect individuals to the House of Assembly, who are expected solely to be the representatives of their locality. This means once they arrive in parliament they do not work together to create policy or select cabinet ministers and other members of government.
The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) recognised the limitations of tinkhundla. ‘This has […] led to successive Houses of Assembly that are dominated by parochial concerns rather than national ones,’ it said in a report on the 2008 elections in Swaziland.
The people of Swaziland are not allowed to elect a full parliament. Instead, they select 55 members of the House of Assembly. The King appoints another 10 to make the total of 65 members.
The people are not allowed to elect any of the 30-member Senate. The king appoints 20 of these and the other 10 are elected by members of the House of Assembly.
Once the election is over, the king will choose a prime minister. The present PM Barnabas Dlamini was chosen by the king in 2008 in contravention of the Swazi constitution. It states the PM should be from the Senate, but Dlamini was not. In fact, he has never been elected to any political office.
King Mswati will also choose the government ministers. He is not obliged to choose elected members of the House of Assembly.
It is generally recognised by observers from democratic countries that the Swazi House of Assembly and Senate are not independent of the king. Parliament simply enacts legislation to satisfy his wishes.
If unexpectedly, they make a decision that the king dislikes, he either ignores it, or forces them to reverse it.
This happened most memorably in October 2012 when the House of Assembly passed a no-confidence vote in the government by a majority of 42 in favour and six against: more than the three-fifth-majority needed by the constitution to compel the king to sack the government (he has no discretion in the matter).
Instead, he chose to ignore the constitution and forced the House to take a revote, which his government won.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) summed up the political system in Swaziland in a 2012 ‘situation report’, ‘Tinkhundla elections can essentially be defined as “organised certainty”, since they reproduce the prevailing political status quo in Swaziland. The ruling regime enjoys an unchallenged monopoly over state resources, and elections have increasingly become arenas for competition over patronage and not policy.’
CONSTITUTION EXISTS MERELY ON PAPER