From: Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2008 11:05:49 +0200
Local: Sun, Apr 27 2008 11:05 am
Subject: Swaziland Coalition calls for Elections and Boundaries Commission to Resign
The Swazi Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations is bewildered by the stunning lack of respect for civil rights already evident in the Elections and Boundaries Commission. We have previously commented on the unconstitutional nature of the make up of the Commission saying that with these commissioners in place it cannot be independent, it does not have the legal experience and knowledge necessary and the use of people that were or are public officials is against the letter and the spirit of the constitution and international guidelines on proper election management.
The Board was set up on 10 March and in its first six weeks of operation has already trampled on our Constitution and our rights to due Legal Process, an independent judiciary, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press and good practice in interpreting Statutory Law.
So far it has banned reporters from public meetings solely because it does not like the way they report – how very thin-skinned from people who are constitutionally supposed to show ‘demonstrable competence in the conduct of public affairs’. A competent authority would understand the role, nature and workings of the press and get its message across - professionally.
It has said that our Freedom of Assembly extends to football teams but not political parties. It made this ‘unique’ pronouncement without hearing any party’s opinion and more importantly ignoring the fact that the matter is due to be heard at the high court and so is sub judice. This shows that they are prepared to pre-empt our courts and ignore Swazi Citizens’ constitutional rights to a fair hearing and to administrative justice – not exactly commendable in an adjudicating authority.
These actions do not give the Coalition confidence in the Commission’s ability to judge properly and fairly when there are disputes around our upcoming elections.
Much has been made of the former Deputy Attorney General’s professional qualifications and the government’s opinion that his advice will be the legal bedrock on which the commission can stand.
This is most worrying since this is the self same ‘legal eagle’ who imagines that the Commission’s constitutional duty to ‘facilitate civic or voter education’ gives it the right to curtail our Freedoms of Speech and of Assembly that are in the Constitution. Its recent pathetic attempt to ban anyone other than it from providing civic education is not only repugnant to those of us who respect constitutionalism and human rights but shows the true nature of the Commission’s attitude to those rights – it doesn’t know or it doesn’t care.
We have seen in Zimbabwe and in Kenya how non-independent, unqualified and biased Election and Boundaries Commissions can be manipulated to bend to the will of the powerful and the corrupt. The violence that erupts is an inevitable consequence of vote stealing and election rigging. We will not stand idly by and allow this to happen in Swaziland – an Election and Boundaries Commission is supposed to protect our votes and to make each one count as much as possible. This Commission already has shown a blatant disregard for other fundamental human rights, how can it be trusted with the most fundamental of all the democratic rights - our right to vote? In light of this litany of errors of judgement, law and professionalism, we call on the Commissioners to do the honourable thing and resign en masse.
In the mean time, the Coalition will continue with its programme of Civic and Voter Education and it will defend its right to do so robustly. Any interference with this programme will be taken as an attack on Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly and the perpetrators will personally find themselves answering to a judge.
The Coalition exists to promote democracy and human rights in Swaziland. The Swazi Constitution is very new and it will take time for all of us (including the government and the traditional authorities) to get used to this new way of doing things and of emaSwati having rights not permissions. While these rights are being ignored, attacked and generally not respected by the government and those in authority, the Coalition must, and it will, speak out and take action – it is our duty.
Statement issued by Right Reverend Meshack Mabuza, Chairperson of Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations.