Friday, May 23, 2008


From Swazi Media Commentary

Swaziland is due to hold elections later this year (2008). Elections in the kingdom are held every five years, but the exact dates for this year’s election have not been set but it is generally expected that they will be held towards the end of the year, possibly in October or November.

To help readers who are unfamiliar with Swaziland’s unique form of ‘democracy’ here is a short background to how the system works. The information is taken from the Swaziland Election Dossier 2003 No.1 from the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) and is based on the situation as it was at the last election in 2003. I am not aware that the Constitution which came into force in 2006 has changed any of this. Political parties remain banned in Swaziland and representation in the kingdom is based on individual candidates.

If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

The current electoral system is known as the ‘Tinkhundla’ system which has been rejected by many groups for lack of democratic credentials. The Tinkhundla system is the electoral system operational use in Swaziland today – the Kingdom uses it to elect its parliamentarians by holding regular parliamentary elections under a no-party dispensation.

The Tinkhundla system is a system that has been operating purely for the basis of providing a semblance of public representation in Parliament. Parliamentary representatives are initially elected from specific constituencies or Tinkhundla through a three stage electoral process.

There are a total of 55 constituencies (Tinkhundla) in the Kingdom of Swaziland, and each constituency is further divided into several chiefdoms.

The first stage of the process entails public nominations of candidates usually between four and ten in each chiefdom.

Technically in this stage, each chiefdom chooses the candidate who will represent it at the Tinkhundla / constituency level, by secret ballot. The elected candidate in the primary elections is then expected to compete in the secondary elections, after they have been dutifully introduced to the constituents. The election process ends with those candidates receiving the most votes representing the constituency in the National Assembly.

The elected parliamentary representatives conclude the process by becoming members of the bicameral parliamentary system constituted by the National Assembly and the Senate.

The National Assembly is constituted from the 55 members elected through the Tinkhundla and ten King’s appointees. These members then elect ten members to the Senate which consists of 30 members in total; the rest of which are appointed by the King.

Public representation is also dutifully administered at the local level through a local council, also known as the Inkundla – the second level of government.

The electoral system described above has been operative since 1993. Prior to this, elections were conducted under a slightly different system. After the repeal of the Constitution in 1973, which had provided for a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, Swaziland experienced a five year break during which period no elections were held until the establishment of the Parliament Order in 1978.

In the absence of any electoral laws, the Parliament Order was introduced without much opposition. It was this Order that ushered in the unique traditional electoral system commonly known as the Tinkhundla.. Elections under this system were conducted on a non-party basis at the primary elections stage through public queuing – each voter wishing to voter for a particular nominee queued behind their favourite candidate who normally would be sitting at a gate, and the counting officer counted the voters as they each passed the gate.

Winners of these elections would then form an Electoral College from which the House of Assembly was constituted. Their only responsibility, once elected was to select 40 members from the public to make up the Parliamentary numbers. The obvious shortcomings of this system, most notably the lack of a secret ballot, necessitated a review; and this resulted in the establishment of the current system through a number of minor legislative amendments.

Needless to say, the system currently in place has its own limitations; the most serious of which, given the variation in size of the constituencies, is that usually the candidate from the largest constituency wins the secondary elections. Moreover it lacks accountability, it is non participatory and it is the least competitive form of representation in both Parliament and government.

You can read much more about politics in Swaziland and other aspects of the kingdom here.


First published 31 January 2008

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