Swaziland: Run-up to 2008 House of Assembly election

Updated August 2008

Elections in Swaziland have generally been held in the last quarter of the year, with the secondary election day usually falling in October. Since the term of the 2003 Parliament was nearing its end, primary elections in September and secondary elections in October were widely expected. Even before the dissolution of Parliament or the proclamation of an election date the elections were widely rejected by democracy activists and as early as February 2008 six political parties, including People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and the Inhlava Party urged a boycott of the polls, arguing that to participate would "would give the state a sheen of false legitimacy" (Masuku 2008). However on 12 July 2008 the little known African United Democratic Party announced that it would participate in the election as individuals and constitute itself as a party inside the House of Assembly (Swazi Observer 2008).

The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), charged by the constitution with the conduct of elections, was appointed by King Mswati III in early March (Mamba 2008a). The composition of the EBC was subject to criticism from the beginning and in April a broad range of activist organizations, including PUDEMO, NNLC, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), the Swaziland Federation of Labor (SFL) and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) petitioned the High Court to declare the body illegal, arguing that the members were not independent as required by the Constitution, but either state functionaries or civil servants (Nxumalo 2008). The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations (SCCCO) called on the EBC to resign in late April on the grounds that the conduct of the commissioners "trampled on our Constitution and our rights to due Legal Process, an independent judiciary, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press and good practice in interpreting Statutory Law" (SCCCO 2008). SCCCO cited a ECB ban on journalists from EBC conducted public meetings, the refusal to permit political parties to take part in the elections and its pre-empting of a High Court decision on the question of political parties as justification for their call, and when resignations were not forth coming, SCCCO filed a similar suit in July asking the High Court to declare the EBC illegal (SCCCO 2008; Mamba 2008b). However, the Attorney General, Majahenkhaba Dlamini, argued before the High Court that the Constitution's provision for freedom of association did not include the right of political parties to participate in the elections, saying that parties had a right to exist, but that only individuals could participate in elections (Mamba 2008c).

The appointment of the EBC came too late to be able to conduct a review of the tinkhundla (constituencies) boundaries, and in July the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs announced that a review would be undertaken only in 2009, after the election (Mamba 2008b). This too the SCCCO found disturbing, in that the Minister had trespassed on the terrain of the EBC on the one hand, and that the EBC had done nothing to assert its independence from the Minister on the other (Mamba 2008b).

The appointment of the EBC coincided with the beginning of a period of severe labour unrest within the textile industry and protesting workers were tear gassed and severely beaten and 40 workers were hospitalised and property was damaged (IRIN 2008; Mabuza 2008). On 4 April 2008 an exiled PUDEMO leader, Gabriel Mkhumane, was assassinated, further raising tensions between the government and the opposition (VOA News 2008). On 5 July 2008 a PUDEMO rally to commemorate the founding of the organisation was banned and those gathered were violently dispersed by the police (Swaziland Solidarity Network 2008). In early August a group called the Umbane People's Liberation Army set off two bombs in Big Bend and Mpaka, saying: "This is a warning to the government to stop the undemocratic elections scheduled for September 19" (News 24 2008).


IRIN 2008 "Swaziland: Worst labour strife in a decade", 6 March, [www] http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=77159 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

MABUZA, F "40 textile workers hospitalised" Weekend Observer, March 22, Swaziland@Newsletter 60, [www] http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/SAK-Swazinewsletter/message/107 [opens new window] (5 Mar 2010).

MAMBA, S 2008a "Justice Minister accused of interfering with EBC", Swazi Observer, 24 July, [www] http://www.observer.org.sz/main.php?id=45591&Section=main&articledate=Thursday,%20January%201,%201970 (offline 5 Mar 2010).

MAMBA, S 2008b "Another application against EBC", Swazi Observer, 24 July, [www] http://www.observer.org.sz/main.php?id=45590&Section=main&articledate=Thursday,%20January%201,%201970 (offline 5 Mar 2010).

MAMBA, S 2008c "No parties during elections says AG", Swazi Observer, 25 July, [www] http://www.observer.org.sz/main.php?id=45619&Section=main&articledate=Thursday,%20January%201,%201970 (offline 5 Mar 2010).

MASUKU, L 2008 "Swaziland opposition groups to boycott poll", IOL, 3 February, [www] http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=84&art_id=nw20080203143009554C732856 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

NEWS 24 2008 "Swazi condemns rebel group: The Umbane People's Liberation Army", 11 August, [www] http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/SAK-Swazinewsletter/message/130 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

NXUMALO, D 2008 "Elections Team Taken to Court", Swazi Observer, [www] http://www.observer.org.sz/main.php?id=42836&Section=main&articledate=Thursday,%20January%201,%201970 (offline 5 Mar 2010).

SCCCO 2008 "Swaziland Coalition calls for Elections and Boundaries Commission to Resign", 27 April, Swaziland@Newsletter 63, [www] http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/SAK-Swazinewsletter/message/111 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

SWAZILAND SOLIDARITY NETWORK 2008 "Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) rally brutally dispersed by royal police in Swaziland", 11 July, Swaziland@Newsletter, 70, [www] http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/SAK-Swazinewsletter/message/124 (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

SWAZI OBSERVER 2008 "Election may not be free, fair", 12 July, [www] http://www.observer.org.sz/main.php?id=45345&Section=main&articledate=Thursday,%20January%201,%201970 (offline 5 Mar 2010).

VOA NEWS 2008 "Swaziland Opposition Leader Shot Dead in South Africa", 4 April, [www] http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2008-04/2008-04-04-voa1.cfm?CFID=21471479&CFTOKEN=85865907 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).