Swaziland will hold the first round of parliamentary elections tomorrow amid criticism that King Mswati III is restricting political freedom in sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
The electoral authorities have registered 415,012 voters to choose candidates from 55 constituencies who will then go on to contest the second-round vote on Sept. 20 for selection to the 65-seat House of Assembly. Members stand as independent candidates because Swaziland bans political parties from participating in the elections, while Mswati chooses the prime minister.
“No matter what happens at or after the election, the overall power and authority of King Mswati III will remain intact,” Gary van Staden, an analyst at NKC Independent Economists in Cape Town, said in an Aug. 22 note to clients.
Mswati, 45, has 13 wives and has ruled the landlocked nation of 1.4 million people since 1986. Swaziland, which earns most of its foreign currency from sugar exports and borders South Africa and Mozambique, is struggling to recover from a fiscal crisis. The kingdom withdrew a request for a 2.4 billion rand ($235,000) loan from South Africa after rejecting demands to make political and economic reforms, Reuters reported in January, citing Finance Minister Majozi Sithole.
“Swaziland is not a democratic country,” the Swaziland Solidarity Network, an activist group, said in an e-mailed statement on Aug. 23. “Ordinary citizens are mere spectators who are restricted to voting for mannequins in the country’s so-called parliament, which lacks the power to even at least nominate a prime minister.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Amogelang Mbatha in Johannesburg at firstname.lastname@example.org