Very few Swazis appear to have voted in Friday’s elections in Swaziland; elections that were criticised by observers from the African Union and the Commonwealth for e.g. the power of chiefs in candidate nomination and for not allowing political parties to participate. Swazis have thus apparently heeded a campaign to boycott elections.
“Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission has not yet come out with the secondary election turnout, but through our powerful team of organisers on the ground we have given the office all regional figures, that indicate that 80,000 [out of a potential of approximately 600,000 eligible voters] actually voted,” the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) said in a statement.
A likely reason for the low turnout is that Swazis are becoming increasingly critical of the mass-poverty and financial disorder in their country, as well as the opulent spending of the King and his officials, and no longer seem to believe that their elected representatives in Swaziland’s parliament have the will or the power to do anything about it.
In fact absolute monarch King Mswati III himself appoints the government, most of the senate, and several members of the parliament, the rest of which he has to approve. Political parties are banned, harassed and barred from taking part in elections, and Mswati can veto any law he doesn’t like. American research NGO, Freedom House, gives Swaziland a freedom rating of 6 (not free), on par with Afghanistan, concluding that “Swaziland is not an electoral democracy.”
In Friday’s elections, only two cabinet ministers and 12 of the 55 members of Swaziland’s parliament were re-elected. “This is not surprising at all,” said Mario Masuku, President of the People’s United Democratic Front (PUDEMO), Swaziland’s largest political party and the main proponent of the elections boycott campaign.
“The last government, like all previous ones, failed to meet the people’s needs and expectations. Voters in Swaziland view the cabinet failure and success on individual basis, yet it is the entire system that is unworkable. Therefore, blaming the individual minister is actually barking up the wrong tree. Ministers merely follow orders from the throne who does not care about other areas of need.”
Elections have thus “increasingly become arenas for competition over patronage and not policy,” as the African policy research institute, Institute for Security Studies, put it – a patronage that is becoming increasingly necessary in a country where two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day.
But now that the international community has seen yet another example of the Swazi population disregarding an undemocratic political system that only serves to underpin the power of absolute monarch King Mswati III, they should act on their promises, says Swaziland’s democratic movement.
“Pressure must be exerted by the European Commission on the Swaziland government to respect the Cotonou Agreement [a political and trade agreement between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific nations where the signatories have assumed mutual obligations on e.g. good governance and human rights],” Mario Masuku suggested as a means of EU-action.
“Abrogation of the agreement must call for a review of the agreement, particularly the sugar and beef quotas. In the past, the European Commission has not come out clearly in regard to the agreement, in particular the conditions based on the respect for Human Rights,” said Masuku.
The SUDF agrees.“The stick and carrot rule must now apply to Mswati’s government. The government must shape up through dialogue on political parties and urgently introduce democracy, or the EU must introduce targeted sanctions and stop EU-funding of Swaziland’s sugar belt.”
By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
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