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Swaziland Rejects Afrobarometer Survey Results

  • Peter Clottey

Swaziland’s government has rejected the latest Afrobarometer poll results that highlight demands for democracy and rule of law in the southern African kingdom.

Spokesman Percy Simelane says it is obvious that the survey was conducted to tarnish the reputation of the kingdom and not intentioned to help Swazis, who he says support the monarchical governance as enshrined in the constitution.

The poll, which was published this week, shows that only seven out of a hundred Swazis are very satisfied with the way democracy works in the kingdom.

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues across more than 30 countries in Africa. The survey was conducted in April 2015 within Swaziland.

It shows that 59 percent of the people do not think they can freely express what they think. It also shows that about 51 percent of the population doubts the kingdom embraces the tenets of democracy - this, despite King Mswati III’s recent pronouncement that citizens support the monarchical democracy practiced in the kingdom.

Critics of the government say the Afrobarometer poll shows that the government in Mbabane is undermining the constitution by suppressing dissent and freedom of speech. Simelane disagreed.

“Our understanding and experience is that they do these surveys not to help Swaziland to get better, but it will kind of put Swaziland in the spotlight negatively,” said Simelane.

“Swaziland is a democratic country. We are following a constitution that was put together by the Swazi people... So, I believe Swazis are happy with the system, because even before the elections, two years ago, the king and the government allowed the people to say whether or not they still wanted to continue with the way the constitution says we should. And the people said they still want the constitution followed to the letter.”

The constitution prevents political parties from participating in elections organized by the Swaziland Electoral Commission. Critics say groups that have demanded democratic reforms have been barred from operating in the kingdom, and their leadership has been often accused of subversion and terrorism.

Simelane disagreed, saying the critics are not fully aware of the kingdom’s system of governance. He says the administration practices a “system of government” which he defines as constituency-based rule, where the people choose their own leaders from their constituencies.

“This is opposed to situations whereby political party leaders impose themselves on the people…If the people of Swaziland, who put together the constitution we are following today, want to change anything, they are free to do that and they know how to change it. We just have to follow the constitution as it is until it is amended by the people of Swaziland,” said Simelane.

Supporters of the government have often argued that a majority of those demanding democratic reforms are out of the country. But opposition groups say the latest Afrobarometer poll show that a majority of Swazis desire change and want more democratic reforms.