Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, votes for parliamentFri, 29 Sep 2023 11:50:37 GMT

Voters in Eswatini cast their ballots on Friday in legislative elections that despite recent and deadly pro-democracy protests are unlikely to change the politics of Africa’s last absolute monarchy.More than 500,000 people are registered to vote in the impoverished southern African nation, where King Mswati III has ruled with an iron fist for 37 years.Some trickled into a modest local school turned into a polling station near the lavish royal palace of Ludzidzini, about 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the capital, Mbabane.”We need toilets in our homes and jobs,” Sithembiso Bandal told AFP, after exiting the plastic booth. “The king is kind and gives,” said the 21-year-old, who nevertheless can’t find work, like almost half of the population.Voters are choosing 59 members of the lower house of parliament, which plays only an advisory role to King Mswati.Formerly known as Swaziland, Eswatini was shaken in 2021 by pro-democracy protests that were violently quashed by security forces, with dozens of people killed. But on Friday, there was no sign of turmoil. Street vendors quietly set up shop on the pavements outside polling stations as voters came and went. In Ludzidzini, many wore traditional clothing. Sandals, animal skins and a coloured cloth tied around one shoulder for the men, a dress and a scarf over the head for the women.The results, to be announced within a few days, are seen as a foregone conclusion by the opposition, which has largely called for a boycott of the vote.”I will vote but I can’t see any change. What we need is to change the constitution. Things must come from the people,” said Joge Cumbalana, 56, a tailor voting in Mbabane. Political parties are banned in the landlocked country between South Africa and Mozambique and lawmakers cannot be affiliated with political groups.The constitution emphasises “individual merit” as the basis for selecting MPs. While it allows for freedom of association, opposition groupings are often run from abroad.Candidates were nominated during village councils by traditional chiefs close to the king. Most are loyal to King Mswati.- ‘The system shall stay’ -“They are saying that there are elections that are free and fair (but) there is nothing like that,” said Sakhile Nxumalo, 28, who heads the Swaziland Youth Congress, the youth wing of a banned pro-democracy party, People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo). “We don’t take this election seriously because they serve the interests of only a few.”In power since 1986, Mswati, 55, is constitutionally above the law.He appoints the prime minister and the cabinet, can dissolve both parliament and the government, and commands police and the army. Acts of parliament need his seal of approval to come into force.”We live in a dictatorship. If one raises his voice, the police come knocking at his door at night and charge him for treason or something,” said Thantaza Silolo, spokesperson for the largest opposition group, the Swaziland Liberation Movement (Swalimo).Two opposition lawmakers elected in the last vote in 2018 are now in jail. A third is in exile.”Those calling for democracy are not well informed about our system. The monarchy is vital and represents our tradition and identity,” said Thula Ngubane, 31, a pro-monarchy candidate for a local councillor’s post.King Mswati has been widely criticised for his lavish lifestyle while nearly a third of the country’s 1.2 million people lives below the poverty line. Infrastructure is minimal in the country dotted by green hills. The Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the Commonwealth have sent observer missions to monitor the vote.Polls will close at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT). “The system shall stay as it is,” Moses Dlamini, 75, an adviser to the king, told AFP.