Polls close in parliamentary vote in Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchyFri, 29 Sep 2023 18:28:47 GMT

Voting ended on Friday in Eswatini’s legislative elections, which are unlikely to bring substantial change to the politics of Africa’s last absolute monarchy despite recent and deadly pro-democracy protests.Polling stations started to close at around 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) and counting began in the impoverished southern African nation, where King Mswati III has ruled with an iron fist for 37 years.After sunset, a handful of voters were still lining up to cast their ballots at a polling station in the capital, Mbabane, without high hopes the vote will bring much change.”We want to elect the prime minister and have a say but in our country, if you’re fighting the king you become a public enemy,” Nozipho Dlamini told AFP.More than 500,000 people were registered to vote. But less than a third of those registered at the Mbabane station showed up, according to poll manager Ldudusi Masilela.”The elections are free and fair. Everyone is given the opportunity to cast their vote,” he said. Earlier in the day, some trickled into a modest school turned polling station near the lavish royal palace of Ludzidzini, about 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the capital.”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 were to choose 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. The results, to be announced within a few days, are seen as a foregone conclusion by the opposition, which largely called for a boycott of the vote.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.Most candidates 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.”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,” said Thantaza Silolo, spokesperson for the largest opposition group, the Swaziland Liberation Movement.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 with green hills.”The system shall stay as it is,” adviser to the king Moses Dlamini told AFP.