Swaziland is holding a vote for parliament today that politicians say may herald a step toward representative government in sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
Some political parties are getting around a 40-year ban on their participation in elections by putting forward candidates as individuals so that they can gain influence over policy. The ballot will choose 55 members of the House of Assembly, while King Mswati III will appoint the remaining 10.
“The main aim is to get into parliament because the more seats we get the more people we can influence and drive the party’s mandate,” Archie Sayed, general-secretary of the Swaziland Democratic Party, said in a phone interview. “This may be the first step to multi-party democracy in Swaziland.”
Mswati, 45, this month chose his 14th wife, an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant. He’s ruled the landlocked nation of 1.4 million people since 1986 and described its political system last month as a “monarchical democracy: a marriage between the monarch and the ballot box.”
The People’s United Democratic Front, or Pudemo, has called for a boycott of the election.
Swaziland has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, with a prevalence of about 26 percent among adults between 15 and 49 years of age, according to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
The country, which earns most of its foreign currency from sugar exports and depends on transfers from a regional customs union, is struggling to recover from a fiscal crisis. Swaziland is Africa’s fourth-biggest sugar producer after South Africa, Egypt and Sudan.
Neighboring South Africa supplies more than 90 percent of Swaziland’s imports and buys about 64 percent of its exports, according to the World Bank.