Times of Swaziland
7 October 2008
SD elections vs SADC rules
By Mbho Shongwe
What can be said of the country’s 2008 general elections in terms of the Rules and Regulations as adopted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) ? The chairman of the Zimbabwean Elections Commission (ZEC) was here to observe the secondary elections on September 19, 2008.
One wonders what he learnt from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) and the elections process. Swazis must not be fooled by the Draft Observer Mission statement and some declarations that the elections were free and fair. In fact, this statement is now misused to say there was no violence. At the same time, these observers are aware that they are in the country courtesy of the ruling elite, hence careful what they release, while still in the conutry.
Therefore, Swazis must read the observer mission statement not drafts. Then, to declare elections free and fair, one must know many issues and processes, including registration, campaigning, polling conditions/stations, voting times, polling officers, campaigning, polling stationery/security, atmosphere, counting of votes, etc. It must be noted that on September 19, five (5) Tinkhundla centres did not vote because of the Court judgement. In fact, more than 10 areas had challenged the nominations and primary elections citing irregularities. Although the constitution came into operation in July, 2005, the EBC was only appointed early in 2008 to prepare and run the elections the same year.
Why the authourities waited that long to act on the appointment of EBC, God knows. The EBC was ill-prepared to run the elections, hence the so many problems and court hearings connected with the elections. The legality of the EBC is questionable to date. The registration was reported to be in excess of 350 000 and those who cast their votes for the eventual winners, the MPs, are about 80 000, indicating that it will be less that 100 000 when all Tinkhundla centres have cast their votes. It was reported that in some areas, people registered more than once, under 18 years registered and wrong people registered. Were the observers aware of these anomalies? What was the role of poverty in the voting by the electorate?
It appears the campaigning was based on the politics of the stomach and not on the ideology and philosophy of governance. The would-be voters were literally given money, groceries and foodstuff, promised Heaven and Earth for voting that individual candidate. Many candidates, if not all, used these unorthodox ways of campaigning. Some of these candidates used these wrong campaigning ways due to ignorance of the law governing the running of elections. There are those who spent more than their initial budgets because they thought these were the right approaches of campaigning. The trauma and suffering caused by this to these candidates are a result of an ineffective EBC. Both the Attorney General’s office and EBC did not reprimand the wrong doers or protect these poverty stricken voters. It is surprising that both offices are now shedding crocodile tears about the illegal campaigning. How can they retrack the wrong created at campaigning and eventually doing something to the winning candidates? These problems will be with the 9th Parliament and hope that EBC and Attorney General Offices will in future be proactive, thus discouraging the wrong being done from the very beginning. The reputation of the 9th Parliament has been put to test by the so many bribing for votes, as reported. Does this pressure of wanting to be a Member of Parliament calling for killing people and or sacrificing so much?
Both the Elections Order 1992 and the Constitution 2005 are against these ways of campaigning for a political office. What is the main purpose of being a Member of Parliament, legislation or employment? So much has been said about voting people to go to Parliament to form our government. At least, this is, what the Swazis are told by those who care or employed to encourage other Swazis to register and vote or being voted for. Others used the television and radio talkshows supported by EBC, all preaching the gospel of voting to form our government. In other words, to usher in the people’s government. Interestingly, when does this government formed by our elected MPs become the king’s government?
Is it when climbing up Malangwane or going down this hill? Why don’t we mention this from the very beginning that the elections are about helping the king form his government? In fact, I have never seen any document talking about the government of the people of Swaziland. Therefore, the talk- shows and slogans have been misleading and painting a false picture about our elected MPs.
However, in order for elections to be observed there are certain laws that must be in place. These are the Rules, Regulations and Principles which are supported by the constitution itself within the framework, in our case, of SADC and AU Rules, Regulations and Principles. The constitution of the country must have the Bill of Rights, thus allowing Freedom of Association, including political association and activities. Therefore, elections by their nature are contested by both individuals and associations. In Swaziland, this is restricted to individuals only (Clause 79 of the Constitution) and thus limiting the said Freedom of Association as enshrined in the constitution. Furthermore, at the appointment of the EBC, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was not constitutionally constituted. JSC is responsible for advice to the appointment of EBC. The composition of EBC, is not constitutional constituted. Even though, EBC had this axe hanging over its head, continued to conduct the 2008 general elections. This also shows that the elections, were run under unconjusive conditions and observers’ deliberately ignored this.
On the elections date, I privately observed four Tinkhundlas. Before this, it must be noted that the voter registration had numerous problems; children below 18 registered, duplicate and multi registration by certain individuals, registering where people do not reside, etc. Nomination carried without checked voters roll, others nominated even though still public officers, voter cards at times never checked, etc. Primary elections faced by many problems and candidates went to Court for some of the problems.
Returning, presiding and polling officers were not properly trained for conducting the elections, hence the so many wrongs in the elections process. Five Tinkhundla secondary elections were not run on September 19, 2008 because of court rulings. All these happenings are suggesting that the elections fell short of being called free and fair. On the polling date, I went to two Tinkhundla centers from the rural and two urban areas. The conduct of the polling; one opened at 7:50am instead of 7am, pictures of the voters in the voters roll not clear, no signs leading to polling room, one still displayed campaign pictures of candidates outside the gate, some polling officers seem not sure of their duties, no uniformity of operations, etc. The polling atmosphere; presence of police officers was adequate not intimidating, some still asked would be voters to vote for their choice in the lines or towards the polling room, other polling stations did not have adequate lights or lighting system, etc. Participating at polls; only saw one with long lines in the rural areas, government provided some transport, some candidates transported would be their supporters with the pictures on these vehicles, etc. Generally, there were no disturbing incidencies in the polling stations, I visited. Because of the absence of many items in the elections, it is very difficult to say that they were free and fair according to known principles of running elections in a modern society, of which mother Swaziland claims to be one. While still waiting for the full tabulation of the elections, one can conclude that many people showed up in the primary elections and shunned the secondary ones. What could have been the reasons for this trend?
This would probably be a challenge to EBC and the authorities of the country that something must be done to enhance the purpose and Rationale of conducting the elections. Now that the elections campaigns have been contaminated by non-Tinkhundla philosophy - ‘vote for me’, thus suppressing Tinkhundla’s ‘quiet campaign’, what is left of its value? Has money become the only tool to make one win the elections? If so, how will the 69 percent of our society ever be MPs?
This practice needs to be arrested in order to avoid untold stories. In a multi party system, campaign funds are controlled and monitored. If the Tinkhundla operation is not careful, it will soon create classes of voters and candidates. Because the candidates will be associated with lots of money to provide to the voters all sorts of handouts, including free groceries, foodstuff, alcohol, T-shirts, hard cash, plots, building houses, cars, etc. It must be noted that this society has been schooled into believing in handouts by the state and uncontrolled fund-raising is the way of getting money, even from the very poor ones. Tinkhundla operation will continue to have problems because it fails to provide benchmarks of whatever it wants to do or propose to implement. Anyway, my congratulations to those who lost or won but did not engage the unorthodox ways of campaigning. It takes one or two to set the record straight. Your action will not go unnoticed.