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Monday, 9 September 2013

'PARTY BAN - PEOPLE CUT OFF FROM POLL'

Fewer people are taking part in Swaziland’s national election because political parties are banned, an international think-tank has reported.

The lack of political parties in the kingdom, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is part of a flawed election process, Chatham House, UK, reported.

‘[T]his is a restriction on both freedom of association and the ability to challenge government as an organized group in an open electoral process.

‘This has resulted in falling voter registrations and extended registration periods, indicating a domestic disengagement from the process, it said in a report called, Swaziland: Southern Africa’s Forgotten Crisis.

The report said at the last election in 2008, 350,778 Swazis registered to vote but only 189,559 participated in the polls – i.e. fewer than half of those eligible to vote actually did so.

‘Turnout in 2003 was 57.9 per cent of registered voters; it was 60.4 per cent in 1998 and 61 percent in 1993.

‘Voter registration for the 2013 elections has been low. With only 20 days to go before the registration deadline, just 190,000 people had signed up to vote, and two days before the 23 June deadline registration had reached only 344,679 out of an estimated 600,000 possible voters.

‘The low take-up prompted the king to extend the registration period by a week, by the end of which the final registration was 415,012.’

Looking forward to the next election due on 20 September 2013, the report authored by Christopher Vandome, Alex Vines and Markus Weimer, said international observers at the poll must not be quick to declare it free and fair.

‘Previously, Southern African Development Community (SADC) observer teams have validated election results on the basis that they have been in accordance with domestic law, without questioning the legitimacy of such law or whether its processes lie within SADC-approved definitions of what democracy is and what it wants national representation to be.

‘In contrast, Commonwealth observers have at previous elections highlighted shortcomings and made recommendations for future conduct.’

Power in Swaziland rests with the monarchy. ‘The king has a tight grip on power, through his power of royal assent, Swaziland has a House of Assembly of 65 members, of whom 55 are indirectly elected/selected under the Tinkhundla system and 10 appointed by the king. There is a more powerful Senate of 30 members, 20 appointed by the king and 10 by the House of Assembly,’ the report said.

It added, ‘The new constitution of 8 February 2006 entrenches the absolute powers of the monarch, although it removes his right to rule by decree and arguably allows for the existence of political parties. The king is immune from the courts of law, and retains ultimate judicial, executive and legislative powers.

‘He may veto legislation and dissolve parliament at will. He selects chiefs, judges, the Judicial Services Commission (which oversees the appointment and removal of judges) and the Supreme Council of State.’
 
The report added, that on 3 October 2012 the House of Assembly, ‘in an unusual act of independence’, passed a vote of no confidence in the kingdom’s prime minister and government.

‘According to the country’s constitution, the prime minister was required to submit his resignation within three days of the vote of no confidence. However, he simply refused to step down, prompting a political crisis. The king, who is mandated by law to remove the prime minister directly following a vote of no confidence, also refused to dismiss the government.

‘The attorney-general advised that the vote was null and void, although parliament continued to support its resolution. The issue was also referred to the king’s advisory council (Liqoqo). On 15 October 2012 a vote to repeal the previous vote of no confidence was passed in the House of Assembly with only 32 of its 65 members present.’

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