19 September 2008
Voting underway in Swazi elections - no political parties allowed
By eNews Staff
Voting was underway Friday in parliamentary elections in Swaziland that have been branded farcical by political parties that are barred from contesting polls in Africa's last absolute monarchy.
Voters queued outside polling stations from early morning in the landlocked kingdom of around 1 million people to cast their ballot for 55 members of the 65-seat national assembly. King Mswati III names the remaining 10.
He also names the prime minister, ministers and judges.
The run-up to the polls has seen unprecedented protests in the normally peaceful country of mainly subsistence farmers, with political parties and trade unions using the occasion to underscore the lack of democracy in the country.
Swaziland's government does not recognize political parties. The constitution does not expressly bar them but emphasizes "individual merit as a basis for election or appointment to public office", meaning candidates must stand as independents.
Police and riot police detained dozens of protestors on Thursday when they attempted to stage pickets at border posts.
Earlier this month, thousands of people demonstrated in the capital Mbabane and the commercial centre Manzini to demand greater political freedom and denounce state spending on a lavish "40/40" party.
The party to mark Mswati's 40th birthday and 40 years of independence from Britain cost millions of dollars that activists say would have been better spend on food or drugs for the needy. Around 70 per cent of Swazis live on less than a dollar a day.
Calling for multi-party politics and improved governance, Jan Sithole secretary general of the National Constitutional Assembly described Friday's election as "a waste of money."
Sithole also accused the African Union and Southern African Development Community (SADC) of "double standards" for condemning Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's go-it-alone election in June but failing to speak out on Swaziland.
The Swazi government defends the monarchy as a guarantor of stability on a continent where party politics has often been bloody.