Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Swazi Media Commentary

16 September



News that 100 observers are heading to Swaziland for this Friday’s election raises the question what are they expecting to see?

They will hardly have enough time to unpack their suitcases before the election is over and it’s time to go home.

If last month’s primary elections are anything to go by there will be many problems with the election.

At one point the primary election was postponed even though polling stations had already opened. The chaos was over missing ballot papers, incomplete voting forms and ballots with the wrong candidates’ names.

Violence broke out at polling stations as polls were closed before everyone had the chance to vote.

Many losing candidates ran to the High Court to have the vote overturned.

On top of this there were accusations that some election boxes were tampered with.

Others said the election was not secret.

On top of this there were accusations that candidates tried to bribe voters and claims of other inappropriate and illegal behaviour by candidates.

Apart from specific incidents on polling day there is also the ongoing dissatisfaction with the members of Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC). The High Court has been asked to rule on whether the members were selected in accordance with the Swazi Constitution.

The constitution states that the chair should be a senior judge, but in fact Chief Gija Dlamini, the EBC chair has no legal background and is variously described as an ‘electrician’ or an ‘electrical engineer’.

The European Union (EU) has already announced it will not send observers to the election because it hasn’t been given enough time to do the job properly. There is also some concern among EU representatives that the Swazi poll is meaningless because political parties are banned and the parliament that is elected has no real powers. Swaziland’s present Prime Minister Themba Dlamini was selected by King Mswati III even though Dlamini had not been elected to Parliament.

After the last Swaziland election in 2003, the Commonwealth Expert Team which did observer the election reported ‘we do not regard the credibility of these National elections as an issue: no elections can be credible when they are for a Parliament which does not have power and when political parties are banned’.

Nothing has substantially changed since 2003 and there is no reason to believe that this week’s election will be any more meaningful. Which of the 100 observers will have the courage to say so?

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