Swaziland’s banned political groups on Friday condemned the kingdom’s political system as Africa’s last absolute monarchy went to the poll.
Lawmakers will be elected under a new Constitution that allows freedom of association but still bars political parties, meaning candidates can run as individuals but not as party representatives.
The run-up to the poll saw protests, border blockades and calls for multiparty elections.
”Pudemo sees this election as a window-dressing exercise trying to pull wool over the eyes of the international community,” said Mario Masuku, of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo).
”We urge the international community to intensify the pressure on the Swazi government so that it embraces democratisation,” he said.
Lucky Lukhele, spokesperson of the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), told the Mail & Guardian Online that the elections will change ”absolutely nothing” and leave King Mswati III in power.
On Friday, the SSN, together with organisations such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Young Communist League, the African National Congress Youth League and Pudemo, organised a demonstration at the Swazi embassy in Pretoria.
”We organised this demonstration to protest against the sham elections,” Lukhele said. ”Swaziland is not even close to democracy. Political parties are banned, there are still people in exile, people were arrested, [and are under] house arrest.”
”Even the elections in Zimbabwe were better. You can’t have an election when the king is above the Constitution,” he said.
Lukhele questioned what international election observers were doing in Swaziland, saying: ”There is nothing to observe there.”
He said 70% of Swazi people live below the poverty line and 40% are living with HIV/Aids. ”The people in Swaziland are pushed into a corner. In the end, the only option is to fight. It’s a scary idea for many, but we don’t blame them.”
He didn’t believe many people would vote in Friday’s election. ”Ordinary people will rather go to work or stay at home, they don’t believe in these elections.”
According to Lukhele, only those who are close to the royal family would vote, as would those who were forced by their chiefs, who are instructed by the king.
Jan Sithole, of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, accused the Southern African Development Community (SADC) of ”double standards” in its advocacy of democracy.
SADC observer mission spokesperson Joao Ndlovu said the team had seen a peaceful environment without intimidation.
”If you do not understand the Swazi electoral system, you would say there was no election going on,” he said. ”The vibrancy that is seen in most parts of the world during elections is not there in Swaziland. Maybe that is caused by the absence of political parties where rallies would be held.”
Ndlovu rejected the accusation of double standards.
The Pan African Parliament mission called for change in the country.
”The non-participation of political parties makes these elections extraordinary from any others … but we hope with time things will change,” said mission head Mary Mugyenyi.
”What we see here is people choosing their leaders to represent them in Parliament. They are not from any political parties,” she said.