September 23, 2003

SWAZILAND: Polls show rising desire for less royal rule

Polling results from the weekend's parliamentary primary elections released on Tuesday, September 23, show Swazi voters want change, and are demonstrating a new independence. Voters retired several cabinet ministers appointed by King Mswati III, as well as most incumbent members of parliament. "It is harder today to say that all Swazis march to the beat of the palace drum. They have shown that they are fed up with the status quo," Titus Magongo, a supporter of former prime minister but now pro-democracy activist Obed Dlamini, told IRIN.

Dlamini, president of the banned political party, Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), was one of three prominent progressives who advanced into the line-up for next month's general elections. Also elected as run-off candidates from their districts were NNLC chairman Jimmy Hlophe, and NNLC member Boniface Mamba. "Technically, these candidates are lawbreakers because it is illegal to belong to a political opposition party, which are banned by royal decree. The voters know this, but they are sending a message," one political observer noted.

By contrast, stalwarts from the royal Tinkhundla system of government fared poorly in the primary elections. Foreign Minister Roy Fanourakis, a palace favourite, lost his election bid. Housing and Urban Development Minister Stella Lukhele has long been an influential figure in her constituency of Kwaluseni - the location of the University of Swaziland outside the commercial hub of Manzini - but she also lost. The target of an investigation into the misuse of public funds for the private business ventures of cronies, Natural Resources Minister Mahlaba Mamba, failed to garner enough votes to proceed to the general elections. In what the Times of Swaziland described as "a vote of no confidence in the current government", only Enterprise and Employment Minister Lutfo Dlamini and Justice Minister Magwagwa Mdluli won their elections.

In one of several reported incidents of violence, Mdluli escaped harm when voters angered by alleged polling irregularities stormed his farm in the southern Shiselweni District, and threatened to burn it down. Police were called in to disperse the crowd.

Most cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini, chose not to stand for election. They are pinning their hopes on Mswati, who has the prerogative of appointing 10 members of the 65-member House of Assembly, and 10 Senators of the 30-member House of Senate. Cabinet ministers are appointed by Mswati from the ranks of MPs and Senators.

Of the over 50 incumbent MPs who ran for re-election, only 20 won their elections. "People are indicating that they need a drastic change," said University of Swaziland theologian Dr Joshua Mzizi, interim committee chairman of the Human Rights Institute for Democracy in Swaziland. Mzizi said government policy had brought Swaziland to the brink of chaos, and ordinary subjects of Mswati who used to leave politics to royalty have now begun to see how government decisions affect their lives. "People are waking up to the power of their vote. They want a government that is accountable to them," said Jan Sithole, secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions.

In one of the most closely watched races, Foreign Minister Fanourakis, the third most powerful member of cabinet, lost to a persistent critic of cabinet, incumbent MP Mfomfo Nkambule. Significantly, Nkambule had not been elected to the House of Assembly by popular vote. He was appointed by King Mswati to look after royal interests in parliament. But Nkambule clashed repeatedly with palace-appointed cabinet ministers, whom he accused of poor governance and malfeasance. Palace insiders told IRIN that Nkambule may have been aware that the king would not reappoint him and consequently stood for election this time around. Nkambule was up against Fanourakis'well-financed campaign, but his record of taking on government found favour with voters.

General elections set for 21 October will proceed despite protests from the Swaziland Law Society, the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations and human rights groups. "It is illogical to hold these elections because the new parliament may be soon dissolved, when the draft constitution is ratified," said the Law Society in a statement.

Mswati wants the constitution ratified by the end of October. The draft document calls for an expansion of parliamentary seats from 65 to 76, and the Swazi king will have the power to dissolve parliament at his pleasure. Swaziland labour federations and the Swaziland Democratic Alliance have called for a boycott of the elections. Noting that the new constitution continues to make parliament no more than an advisory body to King Mswati, who may decree laws rejected by parliament or promulgate laws without parliamentary participation, pro-democracy groups have called MPs "rubber stamps" who lack legislative independence and any real power. (IRIN)

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