Saturday, May 26, 2018

CONFUSION OVER SWAZI VOTER NUMBERS


Commentary

As registration for the forthcoming election in Swaziland entered its second week, more than 100,000 had reportedly signed up.

Martin Dlamini, the Managing Editor of the Times of Swaziland, and one of the chief cheerleaders for King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, called the turnout ‘impressive’. In his column in the newspaper on Friday (25 May 2018) he said it showed there were ‘potential voters eager to elect new Members of Parliament’.

But he (and we) have no way of knowing if these figures are impressive or not. That is because we do not know how many people in the undemocratic kingdom are entitled to vote.

At the start of registration for the last election in 2013 the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) announced 600,000 people were eligible to vote (but observers questioned at the time this was an under-estimate of the true figure.) At the election in 2008, the EBC gave the figure as 400,000.
This time around no figure has been given. It is not even clear what Swaziland’s total population is. 

In November 2017, the Swaziland Government announced it was 1,093,238 people, according to the 2017 census. Of these, 562,127 were females and 531,111, males. It did not give a clear breakdown according to age, but said 35.6 per cent of the population were of ‘working age’. That would amount to 389,192 people, a far cry from the 600,000 eligible to vote last time.

The accuracy of the total population count is in doubt. For years, outside organisations had been estimating the size of the population in Swaziland and recording it as much higher than 1.1 million. The CIA Factbook gave the figure in July 2017 as an estimated 1,467,152 (373,914 higher than the government figure). 

The CIA figures breakdown the ages. Unfortunately, it does not state how many are aged 18 and over (the eligible voting age), but it shows the number of people aged 25 and over as 628,935. It also shows 324,495 people aged between 15 and 24. We cannot be certain how many from this group are aged 18 or over, but an educated guess would be that when added to those aged 25 and over the number of  people eligible to vote is comfortably between 700,000 and 800,000.

Which of the two estimates of the population is more accurate? We cannot say for certain, but it is on public record that there were many problems collecting information for the 2017 census. In April 2018, long after the census was completed and results announced, the Swazi Observer reported that enumerators (the people who did the counting) were still owed E1.3 million (US$104,000) in payments. That suggests the census was not run very efficiently.

It matters that we have an accurate figure for the number of people eligible to vote. Elections in Swaziland are recognised outside the kingdom to be undemocratic. Political parties cannot take part and people vote under a system of ‘Monarchical Democracy’ that underpins the King’s place as an absolute monarch. The King and his supporters say that the people of Swaziland like it that way and there is no need for change.

But that has never been tested. Media are censored and freedom of assembly is limited, so there has never been an a opportunity to debate whether people are truly happy with the political system. The turnout at elections is used by the King’s supporters as a way of measuring this. That is why it is in the interest of the King to spread the message that they are well supported. 

Martin Dlamini, who doubles up as a newspaper editor and an official paid praise singer for King Mswati, says the 100,000 who have signed up to vote so far is ‘impressive’. But, really it is not if there are more than 700,000 people able to vote.

At the last election in 2013 the EBC said there were 600,000 people eligible to vote. Assuming (although it was disputed as being too low) this was an accurate figure, in 2013 414,704 people registered to vote. At the final (secondary) election, 251,278 actually voted. That was only 41.8 percent of those supposedly entitled to vote and hardly a ringing endorsement for the validity of the election.

Richard Rooney

See also

VOTERS SNUB SWAZI ELECTION

VOTING CHAOS AS NUMBERS DON’T ADD UP

Friday, May 25, 2018

JOURNALISTS SAY THEY ARE UNDER THREAT

Seven in ten journalists interviewed by UNESCO in Swaziland said they had faced attempts from politicians or advertisers to interfere with what they were writing.
 
Meanwhile, there is evidence that journalists in private media are not only compromised by politicians but also ‘brown envelope journalism’ where media practitioners are given money or other financial benefits to push or hide information or stories.

Practitioners in state-run media have no editorial independence and are considered civil servants and are expected to abide by government orders.

The findings are contained in Assessment of Media Development in Swaziland, the most comprehensive report ever published on journalism and development in Swaziland.

UNESCO reported that in a survey journalists were asked, ‘Have you ever been faced with attempts by external actors (whether political or commercial) to interfere in the editorial content of an article or programme that you re working on?’ A total of 65 percent of the journalists interviewed answered ‘Yes, more than once.’ Another 5 percent answered, ‘Yes.’ A further 15 percent had no answer to the question.

UNESCO reported the number of respondents who had no answer, ‘may suggest that some respondents might have been responding with caution out of fear of reprisal.’

It added, ‘These results suggest lack of editorial independence in both private and state media and two recent cases illustrate this. In 2014, the government interfered with the editorial independence of the privately-owned Times of Swaziland as well as the state broadcaster. The government ordered the former, Times of Swaziland, to retract a story about the spending of E208 million (US$20,800,000) by the authorities reportedly sourced from Principal Secretary in the Finance Ministry, Khabonina Mabuza, to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in Parliament. 

‘In another case, the management of the state broadcaster suspended  information officer, Thandiswa Ginindza, from air after she broadcast a live interview with the Chairman of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and Member of Parliament, Jan Sithole, on the country’s disqualification from benefitting from the USA’s African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). A controversy surrounded the number of benchmarks that Swaziland required to meet before being reinstated as a beneficiary. But the main reason for her suspension was that MPs are banned from using the state broadcaster.’

UNESCO also reported that in an interview, Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations (SCCCO) Director, Lomcebo Dlamini, ‘observed that the editorial independence of the private media is not only compromised by political pressure but also by “brown envelope journalism” where media practitioners are given money or other benefits to push or hide information or stories.’

It quoted Vuyisile Hlatshwayo, National Director of Media Institute of Southern Africa, Swaziland chapter, who said even in the private media editorial independence was compromised by editors and media owners who had ‘a cosy relationship’ with the government and big corporations. ‘The private media owners and editors ingratiate themselves with big corporations that reciprocate with handing out freebies to the editors and journalists. Such tendencies not only compromise the editorial independence of the media but also contravene Article 3(1) of the Code of Ethics for Journalists which states that: “Journalists should not accept bribes or any form of inducement to influence the performance of his/her professional duties,”’ UNESCO reported.

It also reported that Swazi TV and radio ‘are effectively departments of the civil service and government mouthpieces acting more as a vehicle for development’.

It added, ‘broadcast journalists are considered civil servants first and journalists second. As they are employed as information officers, they are part of the civil service and are thus expected to abide by the Government General Orders.

‘As government information officers they are expected to censor disruptive or critical information likely to compromise national security and frustrate government’s realisation of socioeconomic development goals, which clearly contravenes the spirit of editorial independence. 

‘In addition, the ICT [Information, Communications and Technology] Ministry has invoked the Public Service Announcement (PSA) Guidelines to control the state broadcasters. These guidelines bar all Swazi citizens, irrespective of their status, from airing their opinions on the radio and television stations before their opinions have been cleared by their chiefs.’

See also

TV CENSORS PUBLIC SERVANTS’ MARCH

‘EDITOR FLEES AFTER DEATH THREAT’
GOVT ‘TIGHTENS GRIP ON CENSORSHIP’

JOURNALISTS ‘SCARED TO DO THEIR JOBS’

ELECTION OF WOMEN BILL STALLS


Evidence is growing in Swaziland that traditionalists do not support a constitutional change to ensure 30 percent of members of the House of Assembly are women.

It has taken 10 years for a Bill to reach parliament and on Monday (21 May 2018) debate on it was halted because some members left the house leaving fewer than the necessary quorum of 30 in place.

During the debate on the Election of Women Members to the House of Assembly Bill, Mbabane West Member of Parliament (MP) Johane Shongwe said that wives should not stand for election unless they had the permission of their husbands. His comments were reported prominently by both of Swaziland’s daily newspapers.

The Times of Swaziland, reported he ‘had some of his colleagues in stitches while others were seething with anger’. 

The Times reported, ‘In his usual funny tone’, Shongwe said he was in favour of passing the Bill but had an issue with the fact that some of the women who would be nominated would be people’s wives.
It added, he queried, ‘If I nominate someone’s wife, who will I say gave me the permission?’

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported Shongwe saying, ‘It is difficult for women to nominate one another in chiefdoms. Therefore, it is advisable for them to get permission from their husbands. I was nominated by a woman to be where I am right now, to show that most women would rather nominate a man than another woman.’

The Observer reported, ‘The legislator further said women MPs would sometimes attend workshops at places far away from their homes. This would mean they would have to go for days without sleeping next to their husbands at home. MP Shongwe said this could pose a problem for the husband, especially if his permission was not sought by the wife before taking the politics path.’

Later, Silindelo Nkosi, Advocacy Officer, for the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), said, ‘This is clear backward thinking. While the rest of the world is advocating and promoting gender equality, it is rather worrying to have a prominent public figure making such an irresponsible statement with no shame.’

In Swaziland, political parties are not allowed to run for election. The King chooses 10 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly and 10 members of the 30-strong Senate. Members of the House of Assembly choose the other 20.

The Constitution that came into effect in 2006 requires five women to be elected to the Senate by the House and the King to choose another eight. There have been two national elections since the Constitution came into effect and the required number of women members of parliament has not been met. 

On representation in the House of Assembly, the Constitution states, ‘The nominated members of the House shall be appointed by the King so that at least half of them are women.’

It also requires there are four female members specially elected from the four regions of Swaziland.

The Election of Women Members to the House of Assembly Bill will put into legal force the constructional requirements. It was tabled in the House of Assembly in April 2018 on the instruction of the King. It is hoped that it would become law before the next national election due later in 2018.

There has been opposition to the change across the kingdom. In the past year, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) ran a series of voter-education workshops and conferences. 

Chiefs at a capacity building conference in Siteki in February 2017 spoke against encouraging the electorate to vote for women for gender-balance reasons, the Swazi Observer reported at the time. ‘The traditional leaders said this may be equal to interfering with the people’s choices or rather channelling them into voting against their will but adhere to an order.’

It added, Chief Mdlaka Gamedze raised the issue and he said the call by many organisations to vote for women might lead to interference with the people’s choices. 

‘Instead, Gamedze urged the EBC team to encourage the freedom to nominate or elect any member of the society without considering whether it is a male or female,’ the Observer reported.

‘Meanwhile, Chief Mvimbi Matse reported that some women were denied the opportunity to contest for the elections by their husbands. Matse said there have been instances where women were nominated during the first stage but later withdrew after their husbands instructed them to do so. However, Matse said they would now work closely with the EBC to make sure that such incidents are not repeated in the future,’ the newspaper reported. 

At a voter education workshop at KaGucuka in June 2017, One women, reported by the Swazi Observer at the time, said most women of the area feared being nominated for the elections because they would be questioned and even disowned by their husbands. 

It reported a woman who did not want to be named saying, ‘To be very honest, the reason why this small area has never had a female nominee for elections is because we fear our husbands who will question us on how we got nominated to stand for the elections in the first place. We have heard that a successful nominee requires at least 10 people to nominate them to stand for the elections, unfortunately for us women our husbands will get angry at us when we get nominated.’

Women remain oppressed in Swaziland, according to report published in 2016 by ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa). It reported that despite claims that Swaziland was a modern country, ‘the reality is, despite pledges and commitments, women continue to suffer discrimination, are treated as inferior to men, and are denied rights’.

In a briefing paper called Women’s Rights in Swaziland ACTSA reported, ‘Cultural gender norms dictate that women and girls provide the bulk of household-related work, including physical and emotional care. As a result, girls are under pressure to drop out from school, especially where there are few adults available to care for children and the elderly, for example, in child-headed households.’

Despite the misgivings of traditionalists, the Bill will certainly be passed because King Mswati has instructed it. Barnabas Dlamini, the Swazi Prime Minister, is on record saying government belonged to His Majesty and it took instructions from him to implement them to the letter, without questioning them.  In 2012 the Times Sunday newspaper reported him saying, ‘Government listens when His Majesty speaks and we will always implement the wishes of the King and the Queen Mother.’

The PM said Cabinet’s position on the matter was that it respected His Majesty’s position on all matters he spoke about. He said Cabinet just like the nation, heard what the King said and his wishes would be implemented.

See also

BILL TO GET WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT

NEW DRIVE FOR SWAZI WOMEN’S RIGHTS

WIDOWS CAN STAND IN SWAZI ELECTION