Thursday, September 18, 2008



19 September 2008

Swazis vote in controversial poll

Swaziland is holding its first parliamentary election under a new constitution, amid growing protests calling for more democracy.

Political parties remain banned in the tiny African mountain kingdom, one of the world's last absolute monarchies.

The government says it expects a good turnout at the polls, to be watched by foreign observers for the first time.

Some Swazis blame King Mswati III for plunging the country into poverty and failing to tackle an Aids epidemic.

The king has been in power since 1986. His government recently organised a lavish $12m (£6.6m) party to celebrate the king's 40th birthday as well as the 40th anniversary of the country's independence from Britain.

Armed police are guarding polling stations across the landlocked country, after attempted protests by pro-democracy activists.

Several union officials were detained on Thursday as they tried to block the border with South Africa in a move they said was aimed at highlighting the country's problems.

'Free and fair'

The election is the first in Swaziland since an amended constitution was introduced in 2006, allowing for the freedom of association - but keeping a ban on multi-party democracy.

In Friday's elections, 55 unaffiliated candidates are to be chosen for Swaziland's national assembly.

The king picks a further 10 people for the assembly, which then chooses 10 representatives for the senate, with a further 20 selected by the king.

Electoral official Mzwandile Fakudze told AFP news agency the vote would be "free and fair".

"We have more than six observer missions from different organisations.... We are confident that the process will go on without any disturbances," he was quoted as saying.

Correspondents say the king remains popular with many of his subjects, though opposition has been growing to his lavish lifestyle in a country where most people live in poverty.


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