Nominations have been received for the primary elections in Swaziland, but candidates are banned by law from campaigning for votes. This is the bizarre situation in the kingdom, which King Mswati III, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, says has a ‘unique democracy’. The nominations took place at Imiphakatsi (chiefdoms) where candidates were chosen to compete against one another in ‘primary’ elections to take place on 24 August 2013. The winners become their chiefdom’s candidate in the ‘secondary’ elections on 20 September, where they compete against each other at the Inkhundla (constituency) level to be elected to the House of Assembly. Political parties are banned from taking part in the election: they are also in effect banned completely in Swaziland and no discussion on political policy is encouraged. All groups critical of the present political system in Swaziland have been branded ‘terrorists’ under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. According to the Swazi Constitution campaigning can only begin once the primary elections are over.
This means that Swazi people are being asked to elect people at the primary without knowing what they stand for and what they will do if eventually elected to parliament.
This makes the primary no better than a beauty competition, where the best you can hope to do is to elect the person you most like the look of.
What reasoning there is behind the law to deny people the right to hear their candidates speak and question them on why they should be elected is lost in history. One theory is that the candidates are members of the local community and people would already know who they are and what they think.
If this theory is true it puts the electorate on the level of schoolchildren electing their class captain.
A more sinister view is that by not allowing discussion, the chiefs, who are the local representatives of the king, are able to influence their subjects to vote for the chief’s choice. Chiefs have many powers over their subjects and those who disobey might find themselves banished from their homes or denied international food aid when it is distributed.