The people have spoken
Events of the past week ought to be put in proper perspective. The people of Swaziland went to the polls on Saturday to exercise their right to vote, and to legitimise the system; because this is our democracy.
The response by the public to this election was overwhelming, and the nation has got to be commended for turning out in their numbers to take part in the second stage of choosing a government. This is an important exercise for this country, and there is obviously a lot riding in this election.
Perhaps one should also add that the response to the election is not just measured in the numbers that came out to vote, but the people who stepped out to be counted in the elimination stage, to accept the nominations—even if this was choreographed in some areas. This again enforces the view that this election has been tremendously supported, especially if it is to be considered that there was a majority of the nominees who were young people, who decided that it was time to stand up and take interest in matters of national duty.
This, therefore, makes one look at the future and say it is possible that we are now beginning to realise how important it is that we take our own matters into our own hands; and that, by extension, augers very well for the next election because we obviously will be wiser. The tide is well and truly turning.
There obviously is still a long way to go before this election is over. but in looking at the fundamentals, there are a lot of positives to be taken already. It may very well be argued that there were a lot of flaws in the two stages, with hopefuls doing all they can to stay in the race, while the Elections and Boundaries Commission has never looked like it was in control or prepared for this election.
This has been overly disappointing, and we have to be brutally honest and admit that the commission has failed the nation. Not only that, they have failed the trust bestowed on them by His Majesty. It is obvious that the EBC was never ready for this election, and when we consider that they have been in office for so long, it begs the question of what they have been doing all along. In fact, that’s being polite. What they have done is treasonable. To demonstrate how unprepared, and totally inefficient the commission has been, we have to look at the chaos at the security forces voting on Friday, in Manzini—the dress rehearsal for the big day the next day. To say this was disastrous is understating the obvious. The people who were to vote on Friday morning are reported to have started arriving as early as 5am, but they were unable to vote until late in the afternoon. Eventually, the voting was suspended for the next day, where it failed to start till late in the day—again. This shambles is ludicrous. It is a failure we must not accept because of the importance of this election to king and country. To a large extent, this was testing the people’s patience, and there is no telling what damage it could have led to had they not set their minds firmly on taking part in this election. It is, therefore, puzzling how the EBC has been caught up at the eleventh hour, when they could ill afford the smallest of margins for error, with this spectacular disaster on the first day. In fact, it is tempting to even suggest that the EBC intended for this chaos to happen. For whatever reason.
Despite its promise that it was more than ready for the election, the next day (on Saturday), reports from around the country reflect that again the EBC was far from being ready. For instance, it is said that in one of the major voting centres, the EBC was so unprepared that it had two voting booths—and a single marking pen. Apparently, officers had to wait for shops to open at 8am before they could buy two more marking pens.
Later in the day, when it transpired that there was an overwhelming turn out, they had to call for more voting booths to bring the number to 10. Only then did the voting really take off.
This demonstrates how the EBC underestimated the interest in the voting process, despite that it had the voters’ roll showing how many people had registered to vote in those various centres. It is an isolated incident, but there are many others in various areas where the voting was so chaotic the people either decided to turn back, or simply became agitated.
It is almost as if the EBC didn’t expect people to show up, or that they, themselves, had been assembled just last month to prepare for this election.
The public deserves better than this treatment we have been given, and given the magnitude of this election, Chief Gija and his libandla owe us an apology. What is obviously urgent is that they owe themselves to get their ducks in a row—and quickly, for we can’t expect and accept that the shambles of the past weekend is what we are going to experience on September 20. For instance, what happened at Msunduza could have been avoided by simple logic. There were thousands of people at Msunduza, less than a thousand at another voting centre at Mqolo. This is under the same inkhundla, and yet the officers refused to allow people to vote at Mqolo, despite that that there were no long queues, and the officers had finished early.
To its defence, the EBC has been plagued with a lot of internal problems that have threatened to derail this election. Judging from the manner in which things have happened thus far, this commission is an accident waiting to happen. The signs though have been there for a while, especially if we keep seeing commissioners getting involved even in things that do not involve them, such as dishing of food! The commissioners have got their fingers all over the place, and have taken the eye off the most important aspect of their job. But what figures is that it has no confidence in its secretariat, or that it is meddling too much. Either way, it follows that the blend isn’t right.
But we can’t allow the EBC to ruin this election for us. Therefore, we have to applaud the people who stayed till late, and were patient throughout. This spirit must be commended, for it could have really put people off.
Now we have to do it one more time on September 20, and ensure that we put deserving people into parliament. It is the least we can do for ourselves. The rest we will leave to the appointing authority, for we can’t afford a repeat-performance in the next election.
Lastly, the crashing out of the five cabinet ministers in the primary stage is a loud statement by the electorate. On the one hand, it confirms the long-held view that Cabinet long lost the mandate, after a failed vote of no confidence, and the calls at Sibaya for Cabinet to resign. It is, therefore, telling that these ministers have now lost at chiefdom level, which on its own, shows they had lost the mandate in their own areas.
If we take into account that the ministers already had an upper hand going into this primary election, as they still were in office (albeit without an instrument) and were using state resources and could therefore prepare better than the other candidates. The timing of the release of the Cabinet report card could be seen as another form of indirect influence of their performances as ministers.
So, on the whole, they had an advantage over their rivals, which makes their crashing out all the more spectacular.
Of course, this now marks the end of their careers in politics—at least for the next five years.
They can’t hope to be appointed back into parliament now, according to the legislation. That, you have to admit, is the beauty of our system, of direct representation-when the people can decide with their vote that they no longer have confidence in your ability to represent their interests.
It goes to show that when people are alone in that booth, they will not be intimidated—or bought. That is as close as we can get to the fundamental ideals of democracy. Now, over to the next stage; but so far the people can be proud of their own system.