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African Union Election Observation Mission to the 2018 General Elections in the Kingdom Of Eswatini PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

Dates: 
September 24, 2018

African Union Election Observation Mission to the 2018 General Elections in the Kingdom Of Eswatini PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

• The Kingdom of Eswatini held primary and secondary level elections on 18 August and 21 September 2018 respectively. The primary level elections were held in each of the country’s chiefdoms to nominate candidates as well as elect the members of the Executive Committee (Bucopho). At the secondary level, two elections were conducted, namely, the Heads of the Executive Committee (Indvuna yeNkhundla) and the members of the House of Assembly from 59 constituencies (Tinkhundla) into which the country is divided in terms of section 80 of the Constitution. The primary and secondary level elections were conducted on the basis of the first-past-the-post system in which a candidate receiving the highest number of votes is elected into office.

• The African Union (AU) participated in the elections following the invitation by the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini by deploying a short-term election observation mission, which arrived in the country on 14 September 2018. The Mission is led by His Excellency James Alix Michel, former President of Seychelles and comprises thirty (30) short-term observers (STOs) representing a total of seventeen (17) AU member states. The presence of the AU election observation mission (AUEOM) in Eswatini is part of the AU’s mandate to promote democratic governance in Africa, which is in line with its vision for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.

• In this preliminary statement, the AUEOM presents a summary of its key observations and findings of the electoral process, including the political context, legal framework, election administration, voter registration, civic and voter education, women’s participation and media, as well as election day operations including voting and counting. Given that important stages of the electoral process are still ongoing, this statement does not provide a comprehensive assessment, but only covers observations to date. The AUEOM will release a comprehensive final report within three months after the conclusion of the elections. The final report will include the post-election developments including results management and election disputes resolution.

KEY FINDINGS

• The electoral process was conducted in a generally calm and peaceful environment. However, stakeholders consulted briefed the mission about a wage-related workers’ strike prior to Election Day. The protests intensified in Manzini leading to police intervention. By Election Day, the strike action had ended.

• The legal framework within which the 2018 elections were conducted remains largely unchanged since the 2013 elections. The 2005 Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms such as freedom of association, assembly and expression. However, electoral stakeholders informed the Mission that practical restrictions on civil and political rights remain. These relate to, among others, to the formation and participation of political parties in the electoral process.

• The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) conducted both the primary and secondary level elections in a generally well-organised, professional and timely manner despite some budgetary constraints. However, the closing of polling stations and transportation of ballots to central counting centers has the potential to compromise the security of the ballot as well as transparency and credibility of the counting process.

• The constitution and legal framework seeks to enhance women’s political participation in the electoral processes through the provision of quotas. The electoral stakeholders consulted by the Mission raised a concern that few women were nominated as candidates in both the primary and secondary elections.

In the spirit of the cooperation, the AUEOM offers the following recommendations:

• Encourages the Government of Eswatini to consider reviewing the 1973 decree and allow for the formation, registration and participation of political parties in elections in accordance with the provisions of the 2005 Constitution, and in compliance with the country’s international commitment.

• The EBC to consider reviewing the transporting of ballots from the polling stations to central counting locations to ensure transparency, credibility and efficiency of the counting process. The best practice is to count ballots at polling station level immediately after voting.

• While applauding relevant electoral stakeholders in Eswatini for ensuring that a large number of women participate in the electoral process as polling staff and voters, the Mission encourages them to promote women’s participating and gender equality in elected office.

The AUEOM concludes that, despite the prevailing constitutional and political environment, which proscribes political parties from participating in the electoral process, the elections were peaceful and well managed by the EBC.

II. INTRODUCTION

Upon the invitation from the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) deployed a short-term election mission. The Mission is led by H.E. James Alix Michel, former President of the Republic of Seychelles, and comprises of thirty (30) short-term observers (STOs) drawn from members of the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC), i.e. African Ambassadors accredited to the African Union in Addis Ababa, the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), Election Management Bodies (EMBs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Think Tanks and independent electoral and governance experts. A total of seventeen (17) AU members states are represented on this mission.

The key objective of the AUEOM is to make an independent, objective and impartial assessment of the conduct of the General Elections held on 21 September 2018 and proffer recommendations for the improvement of future elections in the Kingdom of Eswatini. The African Union normative frameworks guiding the Mission included: the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the 2002 OAU/AU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa and the 2002 Guidelines of the African Union Election Observation and Monitoring Missions. The Mission was also informed by other international principles as well as the legal framework for the conduct of elections in the Kingdom of Eswatini.

The Mission also undertook a number of activities, including organising a two-day briefing programme for its observers on 17-18 September 2018 and engaging in stakeholder consultations including, the Chairman and members of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC), the Commissioner of the Royal Eswatini Police Service, political parties and civil society organisations. The Mission Leader also paid a courtesy call to His Majesty King Mswati III. The briefing and consultations were meant to orient the Mission and its observers on the historical and political context of the election, the preparedness of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC), the legal framework governing the election, and the role of civil society organisations and others in the electoral process.

Following the debriefing programme, the Mission deployed a total of eleven (11) teams to the four (4) regions of Eswatini. On Election Day, the teams visited 155 polling stations, 100 urban and 55 in the rural areas. It is acknowledged that the results tabulation is still underway. Therefore, this statement reflects the Mission’s preliminary findings and recommendations based on its consultations and observations up to the close of polling and counting. A more detailed final report of the Mission will be shared with relevant Eswatini authorities after the elections and made available to the public on the African Union website.
III. PRE-ELECTION ENVIRONMENT

Political Context

As was in the past elections, the 2018 elections took place within an environment that does not officially recognize the formation and operation of political parties in Eswatini. The elections were conducted in line with section 79 of the 2005 Constitution, which emphasizes individual merit as the basis for election or appointment to public office.

The Constitution seeks to incorporate and guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual in line with international and regional norms of democratic governance. According to the 2005 Constitution, The Executive reigns supreme over the other arms of government (the Judiciary and the Legislature) with the King as the highest authority.

The Legal Framework

The legal framework governing the 2018 elections includes the Constitution (2005), the Elections Act (2013), the Parliament Petition Act (2013), Senate Elections Act (2013), the Elections and Boundaries Commission Act (2013), the Voters Registration Act (2013) and the Election of Women Act (2018), as well as regulations promulgated by the EBC. In addition, Eswatini is a signatory to a number of regional and international instruments governing democratic elections, including the 2004 SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (as amended in 2015) and the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

In general, the legal framework provides for the preservation of key rights and freedoms, including freedom of association and assembly. Despite this, the AUEOM notes that the Constitution does not address the formation or role of political parties in the electoral process. There is an apparent contradiction between articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution, which guarantee freedom of association and assembly, and article 79, which establishes the system of government for Eswatini and emphasizes “individual merit” as a basis for election or appointment to public office.

The AUEOM further notes that despite the constitutional and legal reforms undertaken in 2013, the 1973 decree passed by King Sobhuza II, which dissolved and prohibited all political parties and similar bodies in Eswatini remains in force.

Election Management

The EBC is an independent body that is mandated to prepare, conduct and supervise the electoral process. According to Section 90 of the 2005 Constitution, the members of the Commission are appointed by the King on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission from among persons with qualifications of a judge or a superior court or with high moral character and demonstrable competence.
In preparation for the 2018 General Elections, the EBC undertook a number of activities, including, boundary delimitation, voter registration, voter education, training of electoral officials, procurement and distribution of election materials. The Mission notes that the EBC carried out these activities according to the publicized Electoral Calendar in line with international best practice and was well-prepared for the elections. However, the Commission did cite budgetary constraints in the run up to the elections, although these did not have any significant impact on the smooth running of the polls.

Constituency Delimitation

Both the Constitution and the Electoral Act require the EBC to review and determine the boundaries of constituencies (Tinkhundla) every fourth year of Parliament and submit recommendations to the King whether to change or maintain the existing boundaries. In doing so, the EBC is required to take into consideration the population quota, terrain, means of communication and other factors. For the 2018 elections, four (4) constituencies were added to make a total of 59.

Voter Registration

A new voter registration exercise was carried out between May and June 2018 in preparation for the elections. The mission received reports that the process recorded a high turnout of eligible voters intending to cast the ballot.

Campaigning

Canvassing for votes during primary elections is prohibited. According to Section 87 (5) of the Constitution, campaigning was only authorized for the secondary elections, starting on 19 August and ending on 20 September 2018. During this period, a candidate may publish any campaign material but this has to be approved by the EBC. It was reported that campaigning for the 2018 elections was mostly done on a one-to-one basis as opposed to utilizing the print media and mass rallies. Campaign posters were also observed in some areas.
The AUEOM notes that the prohibition of campaigning during primary elections does not allow for thorough scrutiny of potential candidates to be elected to parliament.

Civic and Voter Education

Civic and Voter Education was mainly conducted by the EBC although civil society organisations complemented its efforts. The messaging centred on mobilization of people to go and vote, promotion of peace and this is disseminated largely at community level. Civil society groups also held public outreaches calling for the stop of ritual killings related to boost chances of getting elected.

Participation of Women

The legal framework of Eswatini provides for an increase in women representation in Parliament. The Constitution of Swaziland in articles 84(2) and 86(1) requires quotas for women and marginalized groups be observed in the composition of the House of Parliament. A new piece of legislation was also introduced in 2018, the Election of Women Act to particularly address women’s representation into elected office. Eswatini also committed to a number of regional and international instruments to promote gender equality. These include the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Political Rights of Women (CPRW) and SADC Declaration on Gender and Development of 1997.

The Mission notes that despite these commitments, women remain under-represented in parliament. The number of women contesting for parliamentary and local government seats in this election remains low, thus negatively impacting on the representation of women in parliament.

Media

The media’s role in the election is regulated by a code of conduct developed by the EBC. The mission notes that there is a lack of media pluralism.

IV. ELECTION DAY OBSERVATION

The AUEOM observed the opening in eleven (11) polling stations, voting in one hundred and fifty-five (155) polling stations, and closing and counting in seven (7) centers. Based on its observation of the voting process, the Mission notes that:

• The voting process took place in a generally peaceful and orderly environment.
• Most of the polling stations visited by AU observers opened on time, and had sufficient materials to conduct the process.
• All polling stations visited had adequate staff, with the majority being women. Observers noted that the staff performed their duties professionally and generally adhered to voting procedures.
• Most polling stations were accessible to the elderly and people with disabilities who were also given preferential treatment.
• Candidate agents and citizen observers were present in some polling stations and were allowed to perform their duties without restriction or interference.
• No campaign materials or activities were observed in all polling stations visited excepted in two cases where campaigning was observed.
• Security personnel were visibly present in all polling stations visited but their presence was professional and non-intrusive.
• Long queues were observed in some polling stations visited particularly in the rural areas. Observers also noted the long distances between polling stations in the rural areas.
• The secrecy of the vote is generally guaranteed.
• The closing process at polling stations was done in accordance with EBC procedures, though it was time consuming. Counting of ballots was done at central locations, a situation that has the potential to compromise the security of the ballots.

Generally, the voting process was administered well except for the challenges encountered with the counting process.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on its observations and consultations, the Mission:

• Applauds the Kingdom of Eswatini for signing the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance on 29 January 2008, and further implores the Kingdom to consider ratifying, domesticating and implementing the Charter.
• Encourages the Eswatini authorities to consider reviewing the 1973 decree, which dissolved and prohibited all political parties and similar bodies in Eswatini and allow parties to freely participate in the electoral process in accordance with provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
• Urges the Eswatini authorities to consider entrenching the principle of separation of powers between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary in accordance with the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
• Urges electoral stakeholders to consider reviewing the electoral system to enhance inclusivity and foster participation of marginalized groups such as youth and people with disabilities.
• Urges the Government of Eswatini to ensure that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission is adequately resourced to carry out its mandate effectively and efficiently.
• While applauding relevant electoral stakeholders for ensuring that a large number of women participate in the electoral process as polling staff and voters, it encourages them to promote women’s participation and gender equality in elected offices.
• Urges the EBC to consider counting of ballots at polling stations immediately after voting to enhance efficiency, transparency and integrity of the process.
• Implores all electoral stakeholders to embark on comprehensive and continuous voter and civic education.
• Applauds the EBC for providing transportation for voters to polling stations. However, the Commission is encouraged to consider increasing the number of polling stations, especially in rural areas where the distances between the stations are too long.
• Encourages candidate agents and citizen observers to enhance their participation throughout all the stages of the electoral process.

CONCLUSION

The 2018 General Elections in the Kingdom of Eswatini were conducted in a peaceful environment. The EBC administered the election in a professional manner, despite the challenges observed by the Mission, especially during closing and counting stages of the electoral process.

The Mission extends its profound gratitude to all Eswatini electoral stakeholders and voters for participating in the electoral process with enthusiasm and in a peaceful manner.

Ezulwini, The Kingdom of Eswatini
22 September 2018