From Swazi Media Commentary http://www.swazimedia.blogspot.com/
Swaziland’s national election, due later this year (2008) may not be free and fair, according to a report in the Times of Swaziland.
This is because an Electoral Commission which is supposed to oversee the elections has not been created.
This delay in setting up the Commission might mean that it would not have enough time to carry out its duties before the election, which is expected to be held some time in October or November. This could mean that the election would not be free or fair.
The Times reported yesterday (Thursday 28 February 2008) on a forum jointly organised by the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter.
The Times reported Stephen Donaghy of SCCCO saying the Electoral Commission should have been in place last year, but this has not happened. The reason it was meant to be there in that time was because it had specific duties to carry out.
One of these duties was informing people on the process of vote casting. There was also a need to make sure enough polling stations were available for voting.
The Times reported that Donaghy ‘called upon the nation to unite and find a solution on how best the situation would be handled in light of the delay’.
I hope all the media in Swaziland heed that call. As I have written previously, after the last election in 2003 the media – especially the broadcast media – were criticised by official election observers for the poor way they informed people in Swaziland about the elections.
If the media were seeking a guide on what their roles could be during the run up to the election, they could do no better than to read the official report of one of the groups of observers, the Commonwealth Expert Team (CET), which was very critical of the way the last election in 2003 was run.
The CET expressed concern over the very few people in Swaziland who actually registered to vote. In about 85 percent of the registration centres the CET visited, it saw no people at all registering.
Discussing the possible reasons for this apathy, the CET stated:
‘It appears to us that the lack of public participation in the registration process was symptomatic of a wider public disengagement with electoral processes.
‘For instance, civil society organisations played no role in educating and mobilising voters to register and thus exercise their franchise. The provision of education on electoral rights and responsibilities seemed to be the preserve of the election management body and the chiefs at inkhundla level.
‘Nor were domestic observers from civil society involved in monitoring the integrity of the registration process. We were of the view that key stakeholders such as civil and political organisations needed to be brought into the electoral process so that they could play an active role in educating and mobilising the public to exercise their vote.
‘We were also of the opinion that public participation in democratic activity both at local and national level may increase if political parties, which currently have de facto existence, were given legal recognition.’
There is very little time before the election and a lot of work still needs to be done. Let the media mount an immediate campaign to ensure that everything is put in place on time to allow a free and fair election. Let’s not give Swaziland’s undemocratic ruling elite an excuse to postpone the election.
First published 29 February 2008