Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations - Press Statement, 23 July 2008
Swazi Civil Society Takes Elections and Boundaries Commission for Judicial Review
Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations today submitted papers to the High Court of Swaziland seeking judicial review of the independence, competence and relevant experience of the members of Swaziland’s purported Election and Boundaries Commission.
The Constitutional expectations are that the commissioners are either legal practitioners with enough experience to qualify as a high court judge, or else they have equivalent ‘relevant experience and demonstrable competence’.
The nominee for chair of the commission is a local Chief who has spent his working life as an electrical engineer with the Swazi Water Services. Its members include a lecturer in languages, a rural psychologist and an agricultural economist. The one member nominated that may have sufficient, but not necessarily relevant, legal qualifications is the Deputy Attorney General who is disqualified under the constitution since he is a public servant in the employ of the government. All of the nominated can show close, clear and direct links to either the government of the day or the traditional authorities that support the king and the chiefs. In each and every respect their independence, and appearance of independence, are compromised to the extent that they are fatally flawed.
Their backgrounds demonstrate no working knowledge of elections or electoral law. This is borne out in practice, already in the much less technically complicated issue of voter registration we have seen widows excluded from registration because of the fact that they are widows and under Swazi tradition not welcome in the chief’s home where the registration was taking place. We have also seen the exclusion from registration of a person without arms for the reason that he is unable to provide a thumbprint by way of identification. Most worrying of all is the ability of voters to choose which constituency they want to vote in. This is so open to abuse by the unscrupulous as to put the whole of the voter registration into question. It is a small step from a voter choosing which constituency to vote in, to a candidate gerrymandering the voters lists with friends, colleagues, persuasion, bribery, bullying and threats. It is not a recognisable democratic electoral process when the candidates choose the electorate. A relevantly experienced and competent elections management body would have foreseen many, if not all, of these difficulties.
The purported Commission’s remit is to oversee and supervise elections under legislation that has been enacted in parliament. However, this round of elections has seen the Commission ignore existing statutes, re-invent voter registration requirements, pass summary judgement on important constitutional matters that are well beyond its remit or competence such as on the meaning of freedom of speech (you may not campaign or canvass for elected positions until they say you can) and the freedom of assembly (freedom of assembly applies to organisations such as football teams not political parties). It seems that this body is taking the notion of independence to mean independence from adherence to the law rather than independence from political influence.
Police Officers acting on behalf of the state have harassed and threatened representatives of the Coalition who were providing civic and voters’ education. It is in protecting the rights of the Coalition to act and in further defending the rights of those unfairly excluded from Voter education that we take this case.
Political Parties Banned – Parliament does not form Government
Swaziland has a new constitution from 2005 and these are the first elections to be held under this new order. Under the constitution these elections are for individual parliamentarians – political parties remain banned. These individuals will not go on to form a government as Africa’s last absolute Monarch, King Mswati III, gets to appoint 30% of parliamentarians and to choose the Prime Minister and Cabinet only half of whom must be elected.
We contend that the Constitution is fundamentally flawed in its inception, development and execution but while it remains on the statute books it is the law. The rights found in it must be protected and the Coalition, its members and broader civil society will defend each and every encroachment on these rights by the government and traditional authorities either through acts of commission or omission, through deliberate choices or negligent mismanagement.
We have already seen the democratic catastrophes that arise in countries such as Zimbabwe and Kenya where the independence of the electoral commissions were compromised. While we do not see those scenarios as an immediate likelihood, we will not allow the same systems of partial and biased appointments to be established without a challenge. To fall so badly at the first hurdle gives us no confidence in the government’s genuine intentions to promote a culture of respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Which is why the Coalition has, with reluctance, been forced to issue this writ.
For Further Information please contact
Swaziland Coaltion of Concerned Civic Organisations
+268 604 8988
+268 505 5911