Swaziland’s elections have started, elections that many people in the small absolute monarchy jokingly refer to as “selections”, not elections.
The reason for this is obvious, if you bother to scratch a little below the surface of Swaziland’s so-called traditional democracy, also known as Tinkundla.
Firstly, absolute monarch King Mswati III is basically above the law as he can veto any law he doesn’t like. As the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, who monitored the last elections in 2008, stated “executive authority is vested in the hands of a hereditary monarch.”
Secondly, the parliament is more or less chosen by the king, who appoints the entire government, appoints several of the MP’s personally and has to approve the rest.
And finally, no parties are allowed to partake in the elections – only individuals can run for office. Elections have therefore “increasingly become arenas for competition over patronage and not policy,” as the African policy research institute, Institute for Security Studies, put it.
During the first round of elections, held Saturday, candidates were by law not even allowed to campaign or discuss issues with their constituents. This has to wait until the second round, to be held on September 20. “This means that Swazi people are being asked to elect people at the primary without knowing what they stand for and what they will do if eventually elected to parliament,” as long-time Swaziland commentator, and former Associate Professor at the University of Swaziland, Richard Rooney, put it.
The fact that Swaziland is thus not by any definition of the word a democracy is also confirmed by all who bother to look into Swaziland’s elections. As the Pan African Parliament’s observer mission at the last election reported, the elections do “not meet regional and international standards and principles for democratic elections”.
This is why the largest party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), has been campaigning for an election boycott by the Swazi population for months. “Our goal is to organise for a popular rejection of the undemocratic Tinkundla system, and its false elections, and to build an unstoppable campaign or a democratic alternative system,” PUDEMO said in a recent statement.
According to PUDEMO’s “People’s Charter”, adopted last year, the organisation demands a “people’s government”, a “people’s centred economy”, “rural development and land reform”, and equal rights and participation for women and minorities.
Peter Kenworthy is Information Officer at Africa Contact and Internal Consultant at the Red-Green Alliance
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