Eswatini to Boost Nationwide Security for Sept 29 General Election
The Last Absolute Monarchy in Africa
Eswatini, once known as Swaziland, is the last absolute monarchy in Africa and is set to hold its symbolic general elections on September 29. This election will see 59 members of parliament elected from a pool of approved candidates, with the King nominating an additional 11. The constitution of Eswatini emphasizes individual merit as the basis for selecting lawmakers who cannot be affiliated with any political group. Therefore, being in the good graces of King Mswati III, who wields absolute power, carries much weight.
Out of about 585,000 registered voters, those who will participate in the elections will be choosing members of the lower house of parliament, which plays only an advisory role to the monarch. King Mswati, who can veto any legislation, will directly appoint another ten lawmakers. With most candidates loyal to the king, the election is unlikely to change the political scenery in the kingdom.
The Boycotts and Protests
Opposition parties and civil society groups, unable to contest the elections, have announced plans to boycott the event. Only about a dozen of those nominated during the primaries are known to have ties to the opposition. Many do not declare which side they are on, fearing repression. Political parties have an unclear status and cannot directly take part in the vote. They were effectively banned in 1973, but a new constitution in 2005 provided an opening allowing for freedom of association. Still, in practice, there is no legal avenue for them to register.
Show of dissent are rare but in 2021, the kingdom was shaken by pro-democracy protests. Dozens of people were killed as security forces violently quashed demonstrations calling for reforms. Earlier this year, human rights lawyer and government critic Thulani Maseko was shot dead through the window of his home. Hours before his murder, the king had warned activists who defy him not to shed tears about mercenaries killing them.
Impacts on the Nation
Political violence in the country is not uncommon, with previous protests resulting in fatalities and injuries. Authorities are expected to increase security measures, potentially causing disruptions to travel, business operations, and telecommunications. The United Nations has called for an independent investigation into these incidences.
Meanwhile, the king, known as Ngwenyama, meaning the lion in SiSwati, has been widely criticized for his lavish lifestyle while nearly 60 percent of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day. He spends millions of dollars a year on his 15 wives, some of whom he married when they were minors, and his at least 25 children. To mark the 50th anniversary of independence in 2018, he changed the country’s name to Eswatini, meaning ‘land of the Swazis’.
International Relations and the Future
Eswatini has maintained close ties with Taiwan, which is closely watching the pro-democracy protests in the country. China has also been keeping tabs on the situation, given the possibility that Eswatini may join the 53 other countries on the African continent in establishing ties with China. If the current protests do not bring down the absolute monarchy, there is speculation that King Mswati could choose to switch to China should his survival depend on it.
The future of Eswatini remains uncertain. However, individuals in the country are advised to exercise caution, avoid political events and gatherings, and heed the advice of local authorities. The world watches as the last absolute monarchy in Africa navigates this critical juncture in its history.
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