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A KINGDOM VOTES

Eswatini’s parliamentary elections get nod of approval from observer missions

Eswatini’s parliamentary elections get nod of approval from observer missions
Eswatini elections on Friday, 29 September 2023. (Photo: Twitter @EBC_Eswatini)

Last week’s elections in Eswatini — which was rocked by violent pro-democracy protests in 2021 — have been described by observer missions as ‘peaceful’ and ‘orderly’.

Preliminary reports by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) observer missions to Eswatini have found last week’s parliamentary elections were “peaceful” and “orderly”.

The tiny southern African kingdom held its parliamentary elections on Friday, 29 September, to elect members of parliament under an electoral system that excludes political parties.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eswatini monarchy poised for contentious parliamentary elections with pro-democracy opposition on back foot

Eswatini’s elections were the second set of elections in southern Africa this year, following the contentious elections in Zimbabwe in August.

eswatini elections

Preliminary reports by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) observer missions to Eswatini have found last week’s parliamentary elections were ‘peaceful’ and ‘orderly.’ (Photo: Twitter @EBC_Eswatini)

A total of 583,000 people had registered to vote in Friday’s election, the country’s electoral body said.

In a preliminary statement released on Sunday, the head of the SADC observer mission, former Zambian vice-president Enock Kavindele, concluded “that the pre-election and voting phases, on the 29 September 2023 General Elections were peaceful, calm and well-organised in line with the Revised SADC Guidelines and Principles Governing Democratic Elections”.

Kavindele commended the people of Eswatini for “maintaining a peaceful political environment during the pre-election and on voting day”.

The SADC observer mission comprised 47 observers from eight SADC countries: Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

eswatini elections

Preliminary reports by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) observer missions to Eswatini have found last week’s parliamentary elections were ‘peaceful’ and ‘orderly.’ (Photo: Twitter @EBC_Eswatini)

The SADC’s preliminary findings were in stark contrast to its report on the Zimbabwe elections, which it said were fraught with several irregularities and fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe Elections 2023

In a separate preliminary statement on Sunday, the head of the AU observer mission, Bankole Adeoye — the AU commissioner for political affairs, peace and security said the mission was “satisfied that the 2023 elections took place generally in a peaceful climate.

“While welcoming the political maturity of the people of Eswatini and the efforts taken by the government to facilitate their stay and the proper execution of their mandate, the [AU election observer mission] noted that the electoral process was held peacefully and orderly. No cases of violence or use of hate speech were observed or reported to the Mission,” he said. 

Adeoye encouraged all relevant stakeholders in the country to “prioritise inclusive national dialogue to shape the future of democracy they want and to preserve the peaceful climate existing in the kingdom”.

Both the AU and the SADC observer missions found that the representation of women in elected political positions in the country was minimal, and recommended the promotion of women’s participation in the electoral process as candidates.  

‘Ultimate authority’

The US-based organisation Freedom House, which tracks the health of the world’s democracies, regards Eswatini as “not free”, saying the king “exercises ultimate authority over all branches of the national government and effectively controls local governance through his influence over traditional chiefs”.

eswatini elections

Preliminary reports by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) observer missions to Eswatini have found last week’s parliamentary elections were ‘peaceful’ and ‘orderly.’ (Photo: Twitter @EBC_Eswatini)

When it comes to electoral processes, Freedom House says the king “has tight control over the political system in law and in practice, leaving no room for the emergence of an organised opposition with the potential to enter government.

“The vast majority of candidates who contested the 2018 general elections were supporters of the king. Parliamentarians often self-censor in fear of retaliation.”

As Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III chooses his country’s prime minister and appoints some of the members of both houses of parliament. 

The Eswatini legislature comprises the lower House of Assembly and the upper House of Senate. The electorate can elect only 59 of the 69 members of the lower house. The remaining 10 members are appointed by King Mswati III, who has ruled the southern African kingdom since 1986. 

No member of the House of Senate is elected by the people. The king appoints 20 members of the 30-seat Senate, with the remainder elected by the House of Assembly. 

Eswatini Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini

Eswatini Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini (second from right) after casting his vote during a special election exercise for essential services workers in Manzini city. (Photo: Eswatini Government)

Political parties cannot participate in the vote. Candidates for the House of Assembly and the House of Senate are individuals and are nominated at a local level before they face a popular vote.

Following the 2018 elections, the AU observer mission decried the absence of political parties. In its statement on Sunday, the organisation took a more reticent approach, merely recommending the government “review the legal framework to allow for participation of political parties in electoral processes”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eswatini elections and the tomfoolery of observer missions

Mswati has faced increased pro-democracy protests in recent years, with protests against the monarchy erupting in June 2021, which were violently quashed by security forces and left more than 50 people dead.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Eswatini massacre one year on – lest we forget

The SADC observer mission will release its final report after the validation and proclamation of final election results. The final report will be shared with Eswatini’s Elections and Boundaries Commission and the government. Three months later, it will be made available to all relevant stakeholders.

A final report by the AU mission will be released after the conclusion of all electoral processes. DM

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