Voters in the tiny mountain kingdom of Swaziland are voting to elect a new parliament in an election dismissed by critics as a rubber stamp for King Mswati III’s absolute rule. About 415,000 of the country’s 1.2 million citizens are registered to cast their ballots for 55 parliamentarians on Friday. However, of the 65 seats in the parliament, 10 are allocated by the king when he selects his cabinet and prime minister. Political parties are not formally banned, but are restricted, and the country remains sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy. Election candidates are hand-picked locally by traditional chiefs, who are loyal to the king. Mswati holds ultimate sway over the government: he can veto new laws, dissolve parliament and may not be sued or charged. Opposition groups including the banned Pudemo party and South Africa-based Swaziland Solidarity Network have called for a boycott of the poll. The king recently described the system as a “monarchical democracy”.
“It’s just a name so people can understand,” said the monarch, educated at an exclusive English boarding school, to Reuters news agency in a rare interview.
“The world really doesn’t understand the Tinkhundla system, but everybody can understand monarchal democracy.
“It’s an English name. This monarchal democracy is a marriage between the traditional monarchy and the ballot box, all working together under the monarchy.”
US-based rights group Freedom House said in a damning report this month that although the Swazi government “boasts trappings of a modern state… the monarch chooses and controls all significant office bearers”.
“These must obey his commands at all times,” the group said.