As a measure of his power in April 2018 on his fiftieth birthday and in the year that Swaziland marked its fiftieth anniversary of independence from Great Britain the King announced unilaterally that Swaziland would . No public debate took place and a legal notice was signed.
A system of invented by King Mswati in 2013 to justify his power exists in Swaziland. He called it a system formed by merging the will of the people with the monarch. He tried to sell this a new idea but he later admitted to Reuters news agency ( ) that it was just another name for the tinkhundla system that already existed.
European Union Election Experts Mission (EEM), one of a number of international groups that monitored the conduct of Swaziland’s election in 2013, made much of how the kingdom’s absolute monarchy undermined democracy. ‘The King has absolute power and is considered to be above the law, including the , enjoying the power to assent laws and immunity from criminal proceedings. A bill shall not become law unless the King has assented to it, meaning that the parliament is unable to pass any law which the King is in disagreement with.’
A new study called Organised Certainty, Why elections in Swaziland are not democratic examines Swaziland elections and demonstrates that power rests with the King regardless of who the people put into the House of Assembly. It is available free of charge online at << >>
People do not elect the government and have no way of influencing its policies. The report follows the last poll in 2013 step by step from the period running up to it and through the long-drawn out election process that includes registration, nominations, a primary election and a final (secondary) vote.
Section one details the political landscape of Swaziland. The Institute for Security Studies called the tinkhundla elections ‘organised certainty’ because they changed nothing and allowed the ruling regime to have an unchallenged monopoly over state resources.
Section two reviews the work of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) that was launched in 2008 under great controversy. Chief Gija Dlamini, an engineer and one of King Mswati’s half-brothers, was appointed chair although the Constitution stated the position should go to a judge. The EBC has been under constant criticism since because of its inability to competently run elections. The section also details the election process from registration through to the final (secondary) election.
Section three covers the period running up to the 2013 election which was characterised by increasingly violent and abusive behaviour of police and state forces. International observers such as the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa reported that the state was unable to accept that peaceful political and social dissent was a vital element of a healthy democratic process. The Swaziland United Democratic Front and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign said police in Swaziland had become a private militia. The section using contemporary sources details a number of cases of meetings and prayers being disrupted and prodemocracy campaigners arrested.
Section four looks at registration and nominations in the 2013 election. Registration was characterised by blunders by the EBC and corruption. Nominations descended into chaos across Swaziland as equipment failed and some candidates who wanted to be nominated were prevented because electoral officers would not allow it. Women were banned from nomination because they wore trousers to nomination centres.
Section five examines the primary election. This takes place at chiefdoms and at the end of the process one candidate is selected to go forward to the secondary election at tinkhundla / constituency level. Bribery and corruption allegations were widely reported and the primary elections were riddled with problems including incorrect ballot papers issued, alleged tampering of ballot boxes, wrong results announced, campaign laws broken and residents threatening to boycott the poll. In at least one case riot police had to escort ballot boxes from the polling station.
Section six reviews the secondary election, the stage of voting where the member of the House of Assembly is finally elected. Election observers reported it went more smoothly than the primary election but the vote was marred by instances of violence. Police brutally stopped a peaceful march after voters at one constituency protested the result and there were fears of election rigging elsewhere. Nine people including an 85-year-old woman were taken to hospital when voters at a Lomahasha polling station reported stampeded.
Section seven reports the election results and the aftermath. Although the names of winning candidates were promptly announced it took the EBC more than three years to formally release the results. Only four in ten people entitled to vote did so at the secondary election. Shortly after the election, King Mswati named two princes, a princess and three members of his own Dlamini clan among his 10 appointees to the House of Assembly. He also appointed six members of his family to the Senate, where he picks 20 members. He then appointed another 16 members of his Royal Family to top political jobs; effectively carving up public life in the kingdom in his favour. There were nine princess and princesses and a further seven from the family Dlamini in the 24-strong Liqoqo (the Swaziland National Council), the most powerful of the committees that nominally advises the King. There were four princes and princesses and four Dlaminis in the Ludzidzimi Council, which advises the Queen Mother. The Border Restoration Committee which exists to try to get South Africa to give some of its territory to King Mswati had three princes and princesses and five Dlaminis among its 14 members. King Mswati also reappointed .
Section eight explores media coverage of the elections. Nearly all broadcast media are state controlled and censored. One of only two daily newspapers in the kingdom is in effect owned by King Mswati. The media told their audiences and readers that it was their duty to support the King by voting. Often media reported that people were electing a government when they were not. International media were more revealing, often reporting the opposition view that the election was a fraud.
Section nine looks at disputes and court procedures. The 2013 election did not end with the announcement of the winners. The Swaziland High Court was kept busy with a number of claims of malpractice. A total of 31 election cases were brought before the High Court for determination by prospective and actual candidates for election and 23 cases were dismissed.
Section ten offers some final words by reprising human rights reports from international organisations for the year 2017 (the most recent available). Among a long list violations are arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government in free and fair elections; institutional lack of accountability in cases involving rape and violence against women and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.
Appendix one is an extract from the Commonwealth Observer Mission Report on the 2013 election. The EBC accredited more than 400 international and local observers to witness the poll. In its report, the EBC listed good practices and areas for improvement highlighted by observers but it ignored the fact that many groups declared the election was not free and fair because Swaziland was not a democracy. The extract from the Commonwealth Observer Mission offers a more complete picture. It concludes, ‘that the entire process could not be deemed credible, due to major democratic deficits’.