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There’s been sharp reaction to remarks by Eswatini’s elections and boundaries commission (EBC). The remarks were to the effect that members of parliament have only ‘limited’ powers and authority, and that these ‘do not extend to the monarchy’.

‘The monarchy is a no-go area,’ the EBC said earlier this week.


Commenting on these remarks by the chairperson of the EBC, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) noted that they were made as Eswatini readies for what are widely seen as the most decisive parliamentary elections in its 50 years of independence, scheduled to take place next year.

In preparations for the polls, the EBC is visiting the country’s 55 constituencies offering political and civil education. It is in this context that SALC is concerned about the EBC’s comments, saying they ‘seem to go against the principles of freedom of expression’ enshrined in the country’s constitution.

‘Giving instructions to the citizens of Eswatini and, by extension, the legislature, not to engage or discuss a political subject of significance, such as the institution of the monarchy, spells trouble during a period of political uncertainty in the Kingdom. Since July 2021, the country has seen a growing number of killings, arrests and physical violence against citizens, calling for political reform,’ said SALC.

Self-determination rights

In addition to apparently amounting to an infringement of free expression principles, the EBC comments also run counter to the right to self-determination, something that should be considered ‘a central principle’ of modern-day democracy, according to SALC.

This right is nothing less than the freedom of the people ‘to determine their destiny’. Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reads, ‘All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’

Against this background, and given the situation in Eswatini, it was ‘rather dangerous’ for the EBC chairperson to ‘utter such erratic, if not outright absurd, words’, said SALC.


‘Having a monarchy which Swazis cannot critique or reform to suit their needs makes a mockery of the concept of self-determination and renders elections a futile exercise.’

The constitution said that the people of Eswatini ‘have a right to be heard through and represented by their own freely chosen representatives in the government of the country’, but on the ground, the reality was different, with two elected MPs in jail for 14 months already, on political charges.


SALC said that the EBC’s words made it seem that next year’s elections would be a ‘sham’. It added that, as Eswatini gets closer to elections in which MPs were chosen in a system ‘that explicitly excludes political parties’ like the proscribed People’s Democratic Movement, ‘it was time for the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, to call out the contradictions and urge the release of political detainees.’

‘For a healthy democracy to thrive, there needs to be a political plurality which expands to the right to criticise and hold accountable those in positions of power. No institution should be above criticism, and a political institution such as a monarchy, whose everyday existence impacts the lives of over 1.3 million citizens, should undoubtedly expect and encourage scrutiny and debate.’