African Union criticises Swazi elections

AU mission calls for democratic reforms

Richard Lee's picture


Strategic communications for WWF

September 23rd, 2013

Slowly but surely the campaign for democratic reform in Swaziland is gaining momentum. King Mswati III and his regime have done everything in their absolutist power to suppress local and international demands for change but they will find it hard to silence the latest group to call for reforms – the African Union.

In a serious blow to the credibility of the Swazi elections, which concluded on Friday and which domestic critics have labeled ‘selections’, the African Union Election Observer Mission (AUEOM) openly criticised the fact that political parties are banned from competing in the elections – a clear violation of people’s rights to freedom of assembly and association in the country.

The mission, headed buy Justice Maxon Mbendera, pointed out that – while Swaziland’s Constitution guaranteed the fundamental rights of association and assembly, these rights with regard to political assembly and association were not fully enjoyed.

“This was evidenced by the mission’s observations that candidates contested elections as individuals and not under political parties,” Mbendera said.

For years, pro-democracy groups in Swaziland have been advocating around this issue – highlighting the undemocratic nature of the ‘politcal-partyless’ Tinkhundla system. And in 2013, with elections looming, the groups intensified their campaign – coming together in an unprecedented coalition to push for the full legalisation and registration of political parties.

And it is clear that the AUEOM is now firmly behind the campaign with the mission calling for Swaziland to review its Constitution so that it is in full conformity with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which enshrines the fundamental freedoms of conscience, expression, peaceful assembly, association and movement as well as international principles for free and fair elections and participation in the electoral process.

This will have come as a stinging blow to King Mswati and his clique, who live a luxurious life while the majority of Swazis live in acute poverty with little access to basic services. They have always been able to rely on the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to stick by them – to steer clear of any public criticism. But no longer.

Indeed, the AU observer mission also called on the Swazi authorities to implement the African Commission’s 2012 Resolution on Swaziland, which called on the government to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly – and which the King and his cronies had simply ignored.

The AU Mission will provide a more detailed report in due course but its preliminary findings are damning. And its open call for reforms to allow political parties to operate freely – and contest elections – is a potential game-changer.


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