Eswatini government disowns SADC Electoral Advisory Council Mission
The government of the kingdom of Eswatini is disassociating itself from the SADC Electoral Advisory Council’s mission that is on ground to inspect the environment of the country to hold peaceful elections. Eswatini is expected to hold Parliamentary elections on 29 September 2023.
A statement issued on June 2, 2023, by government spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo stated that the SADC Electoral Advisory Council mission was not invited by the Eswatini government and whatever they are doing in the country is unknown to the government of Eswatini.
Secrets Known has reviewed SADC Election Observation Mission (SEOM) reports of the 2018 Parliamentary election in Eswatini which raise a number of concerns. These concerns include among others, the selection of candidates based on individual merit as opposed to political parties, the banning of political parties, and lack of official information regarding the total number of registered voters.
The SEOM further expressed concerns over the practice of making female candidates address campaign events whilst on their knees. Whereas the government of Eswatini defended it as a cultural practice aimed at showing that women have respect to the community in general, the SOEM called it out as a degrading experience to the dignity of the female candidates.
The observation mission further noted that after polling, ballot boxes were moved from polling stations to specific venues where ballot papers are counted from. The Electoral Act (section 61(1), makes no provision for the counting of ballot papers and posting of the results at each polling station. This reduces security and undermines the transparency and credibility of the vote-counting process.
SEOM recommended among other things that the role of political parties should be recognised in the context of Eswatini’s Tinkhundla system, review of cultural practices that degrade female candidates, and increase transparency of the voter’s roll among others. The Tinkhundla system according to the SEOM, breaches the fundamental right to freedom of association and drastically limits the political space.
It seems the concerns and recommendations of the SADC Election Observation Mission did not go down well with the government of the Kingdom of Eswatini. The secret known is that Eswatini is not a democracy but an absolute monarchy.
In fact, Eswatini is the last absolute monarchy in Africa where political parties are banned and lawmakers are sidelined by the king. The King appoints commissioners to the electoral management body. The country has been ruled by King Mswati III since 1986, and he wields absolute power. Mswati can veto any legislation, he appoints the prime minister and cabinet and is constitutionally above the law.
The Freedom in the World Report, 2022 produced by Freedom House highlights over 20 countries in Africa as autocracies and Eswatini is among them. Since 2021, there have been citizen pro-democracy protests.
The protesters have demanded a lifting of the ban on political parties and the right to elect the prime minister. Some protesters are demanding that the monarchy be completely dismantled.