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Released on: September 27, 2023

CFE calls for Eswatini to take steps to ensure this week’s election is free and fair

Citizens of Eswatini will go to the polls on September 29, 2023 to elect a new legislature
under serious constraints. They will elect Members of Parliament, Constituency Headmen
and Constituency Councilors but this will have little impact on the executive, which is
controlled by the absolute monarch, King Mswati II.
Political parties are banned from participating in the elections in favour of the Tinkhundla
participatory system of governance, where candidates are voted for as individuals. In
addition, the media has been severely constrained, including journalists being made to sign
a secrecy pledge if they wish to cover the polling stations. Many journalists from the
independent media (mostly online) were not afforded identification tags to cover the
elections. Such tags were the prerogative of the mainstream media, which faces ongoing
criticism for its lack of independence.
In recent years, Eswatini has faced an unprecedented upsurge of protest against the failure
to democratise, especially the refusal to hold elections under a multiparty participatory
representation. The country’s worst political upheaval was in June 2021, which left over 46
dead (official statistics from the Human Rights Commission) and an unquantifiable number
of injuries, estimated at over 200, as the government unleashed security forces to suppress
public demonstrations calling for democratic reforms.
In response, at the apex of the political unrest, King Mswati promised to open a national
dialogue, but has failed to do so. When dissolving Parliament in July 2023 in preparation for
this week’s vote, the King reiterated his promise for a dialogue in the traditional format of
summoning people to the cattle byre and allowing individuals only to submit
representations. This format has been vigorously opposed by those clamouring for
democratic reforms as an unfair process.

Press Release

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