The fifth Tinkhundla general elections, 1998

Extracted from: "Swaziland" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 329-330.

These were the latest elections under the non-party system. The King dissolved parliament on 12 August 1998. Voter registration took place amid calls by the opposition for a boycott of the elections. The boycott calls were in support of the opposition's long-standing demands for a democratic dispensation. The registration process was marked by a high degree of voter apathy, and as few people had registered during the scheduled period, the time for registration had to be extended. Ultimately, only about 200 000 out of an estimated 400 000 potential voters had registered.

The election was held on 16 and 24 October 1998 under conditions of exceptionally heavy rains. Despite these conditions, 119 845 of the 198 445 registered voters did vote, that is 60 per cent. However, those who voted, represented only 30 per cent of the 398 000 eligible to vote. The Lubombo region, which is considered a stronghold of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), one of the organisations that had called for an election boycott, recorded the lowest turnout - 55 per cent of the registered voters. The figures for the other regions were 65 per cent in Hhohho, 61 per cent in Manzini, and 59 per cent in Shiselweni.

Only two out of the 16 ministers appeared for the primary elections and only one was eventually elected. Successful candidates then had to speak at the secondary elections and answer questions. The electors' primary interest was the poor performance of the Members of Parliament they had elected five years before - very few of the existing MPs were re-elected.

The period before the elections had witnessed open displays of intimidation of the opposition. Security forces searched the homes of some of the more prominent opposition leaders, and in what was officially described as a routine exercise, some less fortune ones were detained. The actual polling, however, took place in a peaceful atmosphere, with 350 candidates contesting the 55 elected parliamentary seats. The workers in the vast sugar and citrus plantations responded to the call from the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions for an election boycott, and people in most urban areas reportedly were "totally apathetic". According to Robert Thwala, Swaziland's Chief Electoral Officer, the total cost of the 1998 elections amounted to E16 million (about US$3 million).