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Swaziland Voters Elect New Parliament


Voters in Swaziland are choosing a new parliament. The tiny landlocked country is the last absolute monarchy in sub-Saharan Africa, and the legislature has little power.

Turnout was reported to be light early in the day, and election officials blamed a sudden cold snap for keeping voters away.

In addition, several pro-democracy groups have called for a boycott of the election, claiming that Swaziland's entire political system is undemocratic.

Swaziland is the only absolute monarchy in sub-Saharan Africa, and King Mswati III, rules by decree. Lawmakers in parliament debate policy and advise the king, but they do not pass legislation. Political parties have been outlawed for 30 years, although a few remain active unofficially.

The kingdom is under extreme pressure to democratize, both from domestic reform activists and from the international community. A new constitution is in the approval process. If it is adopted, it will guarantee more civil liberties and political rights for Swazi citizens. Political parties will remain banned, however, at least for the first few years.

There are only about 288,000 registered voters in Swaziland, out of a population of about one million. They have been asked to choose 55 members of the lower house of parliament, and the king will appoint another 10 lawmakers. Election officials say they will not start counting ballots until Sunday morning.

Several teams of international observers, including the Southern African Development Community and the Commonwealth, have gone to Swaziland to monitor the voting and counting.