MBABANE, Swaziland (AP) — Swaziland held elections to choose a new parliament on Friday, but some opposition figures in the southern African monarchy said the process was not democratic and should be boycotted.
Voters were selecting 55 parliamentarians from among candidates who had been chosen by tribal leaders loyal to King Mswati III. The king selects another 10 candidates for the 65-member assembly.
Swaziland also has a 30-member senate that is appointed by the king and the assembly. Pro-democracy activists say the king, who has ruled since 1986 following the death of his father, King Sobhuza III, holds so much power over the courts and legislature that the election is unlikely to bring meaningful change.
Mswati has been accused of harassing and jailing pro-democracy activists. A new constitution was introduced in 2005, but analysts say it did not go far enough in addressing calls for reform. The parliamentary elections are held every five years.
Voting proceeded peacefully and there were long lines at some polling stations. It was unclear whether the boycott was having an impact. Some pro-reform figures had decided to participate in the election.
The kingdom of more than 1 million people, about one third of whom are registered to vote, has high rates of unemployment and AIDS. The country has little strategic value, and its political challenges have not attracted as much international attention as other regional countries such as Zimbabwe.
Landlocked Swaziland, bordered by South Africa and Mozambique, will endure even greater economic decline unless vital reforms are carried out, including a reduction in the expenses of a king reported to spend lavishly, according to a recent report by Chatham House, a London-based policy institute.
The elections are “unlikely to have much tangible impact in the short term, particularly as most decisions are made by appointed officials rather than elected officials,” said Chatham House.
It urged Mswati and his officials to seize opportunities for reform after the vote, but opponents believe the king is using the election as a way to reinforce his control.
Prior to the elections, Mswati sought to present the election as a fair process in an interview with Swazi media, saying he wouldn’t appoint any losing parliamentarians to other positions.
But the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network, a civil society group in the region, described the polls as a ploy to delay genuine democracy.
“There is no political change we can expect as a result of these elections,” said Dr. Collins Magalasi, general secretary of the network. “The traditional system in place supports the king.”