An Absolute Problem
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Late last year, pro-democracy activists, political dissidents, and others gathered in South Africa to discuss how they might compel King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of the tiny, independent landlocked nation of Eswatini, to resign.
Soon after, in January 2023, gunmen shot and killed Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko in his home. Maseko was an outspoken advocate for creating a multiparty democracy in his country, reported the Associated Press. Formerly known as Swaziland and nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, Eswatini is the last absolute monarchy in Africa. King Mswati has ruled there since 1986.
Maseko’s death was the latest incident in a crackdown against the king’s critics that began two years ago amid protests for political change in the country, explained Human Rights Watch (HRW). At least 46 people were killed in that crackdown – deaths that the government, meanwhile, has allegedly failed to investigate.
The activist’s absence has been deeply felt in the country, wrote the Institute for Security Studies. In the meantime, while South African leaders have pressured King Mswati to make gestures to expand political participation, the king has resisted real reforms.
“The protests that began two years ago have been seen as the beginning of a tipping point in Eswatini’s governance, human rights and democratic crisis,” said HRW researcher Nomathamsanqa Masiko-Mpaka this summer. “The government needs to realize that the movement for human rights and justice is not going to go away and that it needs to end its repression.”
Now, as voters are slated to go to the polls for legislative elections on Sept. 29, critics fear that candidates won’t necessarily represent their interests – because the king has likely cherry-picked his allies for the chamber, wrote news24.
Political parties are not allowed to field candidates for the Eswatini legislature. If independent candidates were allowed to run for office, they might challenge the king’s rule, after all. Polls in Eswatini, for example, found that 86 percent of the country believes the country’s economic future looked “fairly bad” if not “very bad.”
The electoral system is also stacked against the people. Voters elect 59 members of the lower chamber called the House of Assembly, while the king appoints 10 lawmakers, according to the Anadolu Agency. Then the lower house elects 10 members of the Senate while the king appoints 20 senators.
Political activists in the country today are torn between boycotting the elections, and contesting them to at least have a chance at some political power, the Daily Maverick wrote.
Unfortunately, their success relies on the whims of one powerful man.