October 21, 2003

Women victors in parliamentary election

A low-key parliamentary election in Swaziland at the weekend yielded a new crop of MPs that includes the head of a banned opposition political party and a sharp increase in the number of women legislators. "The polling went smoothly, with no reports of violence or demonstrations," said Chief Electoral Officer Robert Thwala.

Obed Dlamini, the former prime minister from 1989 to 1993, who broke from the ranks of royal government to become president of the banned political organisation, the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), won a solid majority of votes in his rural area south of the main commercial town, Manzini. Dlamini and two other NNLC members did not heed the call of the Swaziland Democratic Alliance for an election boycott, though the NNLC is a member of the umbrella organisation that includes labour and human rights groups. The other NNLC candidates did not progress beyond the primary elections.

Manzini, the country's most populous urban centre, is now represented solely by women after the city's three constituency districts voted for women MPs. The northern provincial town, Pigg's Peak, also elected a woman. On the whole, a total of five women were elected MPs. Further notable election victories went to former MP Mfomfo Nkambule, who defeated the third-most powerful cabinet minister, Foreign Minister Roy Fanourakis, in the primary elections. Nkambule had been one of Mswati's MPs - appointed to look after royal interests - but he reportedly angered ministers with his probing questions during parliamentary debates. The palace indicated he would not be reappointed, but Nkambule succeed in securing his own place in the House of Assembly, representing Mtfongwaneni in central Swaziland.

Out of the 17-member cabinet, only Finance Minister Majozi Sithole and Enterprise and Development Minster Lutfo Dlamini succeeded in winning their seats, a prerequisite for appointment to cabinet. Ministers who chose not to contest the elections are pinning their hopes on the king. Mswati can still appoint MPs loyalists to whom he wishes to award cabinet posts.

With professional politicians essentially banned in the kingdom (which does not have any constitution and still does not recognise political parties and independent media), "celebrity candidates" found some voter appeal this year. Elected at the weekend were two radio personalities, a producer of fashion shows, and the leader of a popular gospel group. The palace has indicated that Mswati will appoint 10 MPs next month, who will join the 55 elected MPs in selecting 10 members from the general public to serve in the House of Senate. A majority of the 30-member Senate, however, will be filled by Mswati's personal appointees. Mswati will also appoint a prime minister and fill his cabinet as he chooses, with most ministers drawn from among the MPs. With final tallies yet to be released, voter turnout appeared slightly greater than for the last parliamentary election in 1998. (IRIN)


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