Swaziland
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ASPIRING BUCOPHO WON’T HAVE IT EASY THIS YEAR

MBABANE – A different year for elections!

This year’s elections might not be a walk in the park for aspiring bucopho as they might not assume office immediately after the primary elections. Bucopho are constituency councillors, a body enshrined in the Constitution of Eswatini of 2005, and play an important role of coordination within the community, while ensuring that the populace is able to access a litany of services. These changes could be brought about by the proposed amendments to the Elections Act. The proposed amendments are likely to see bucopho, tindvuna tetinkhundla and Members of Parliament (MPs) all elected and concluded at secondary level on the same day. All these political bodies play various roles within their constituencies, though they work hand-in-hand in the development of their communities. These changes would mean bucopho would no longer contest in the primary elections, but in the secondary elections.

Nomination

They will be nominated during the nomination stage then wait for the secondary elections to be announced as winners. Only those contesting for the indvuna yenkhundla and MP would contest in the primary elections. In an interview with this publication, Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Communications Officer Mbonisi Bhembe, said the amendments were among many others that they were looking forward into being passed before the elections time. Bhembe said the call for the bucopho not to occupy office immediately after the primary elections was meant to avoid any influence on the election process by the constituency councillors.

Concerns

He said the concerns were that the bucopho often used their power to influence voters to vote for their (bucopho) preferred candidates in the MP position and then de-campaign others.  
He said the amendments would also see those nominated for bucopho position campaigning just like indvuna yenkhundla and MP. Bhembe said if the amendments came into effect, the candidates nominated for the bucopho positions would have to go through the campaigning stages just like those aspiring for indvuna yenkhundla and MP. In the past, those nominated for the bucopho position were not required to campaign but were elected by the community members based on their knowledge of that particular candidate if indeed he or she was a member of their community and his activeness in developmental issues.

The communications officer said they were hopeful that such amendments would have been finalised by the time the elections time came. The primary elections are scheduled for August 27, while secondary elections are scheduled for September 29. In Parliament, during the appearance of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the issue of the influence by the bucopho on the elections was raised. Gege MP Musa Kunene asked the minister; “Could the ministry ensure that all the elective positions in an inkhundla, for instance, bucopho, indvuna yenkhundla and Member of Parliament etc, be all elected and concluded at secondary level on the same day, so that there will be no influence on the election process by bucopho or anyone else?” The response by the ministry was that it was an offence for bucopho to influence the election process upon being elected, hence they must be reported to the police for investigation and prosecution where they were found guilty.  The ministry said the recommendation was acknowledged and the commission (EBC) would explore the feasibility of implementing it within the ambit of the law.

Meanwhile, Ndzingeni MP Lutfo Dlamini asked if the legislative amendments on the Electoral Bills would be undertaken before or after the general elections. In response to that, the ministry said selected legislative amendments would be undertaken before the general elections.

Comprehensive

“However, it is projected that a more comprehensive amendment and consolidation of electoral law would be undertaken after the general elections,” reads the written responses of the ministry. In an interview with this publication yesterday, Mkhiweni MP Michael Masuku, said they were still working on these issues as the public consultations were still ongoing. Masuku said indeed they were looking forward into seeing the bucopho aspirants campaigning just like the indvuna yenkhundla and MP. The legislator said they were working around these issues at the same time being cognisant of the Constitution as whatever they were doing should not clash with the Constitution.  Other changes that will take place in the upcoming elections will be on the issuing of voter cards upon registration. In this year’s elections, there will be no voter cards issued but voters will be required to carry their personal identity (ID) cards throughout the elections.

Bhembe said issuing the voter cards came at a cost, which was carried by the taxpayer. He said, therefore, as EBC, it was their duty to ensure that all costs of the elections were not exorbitant. Bhembe said they were also looking at making changes in the period for checking of voters roll, from 14 days upwards, in order to allow voters to have enough time to check it and identify any errors and names of people who had registered from areas where they did not originate from. He also stated that they were also working around amending the number of nominees, from the three to 20. He said they aimed at making it four upwards in order to allow inclusion of all groups like the youth, those with disabilities, women and men. He said the minimum of three nominees showed that already one group was left out.

In order for anyone to make nominations, that particular person should have been registered and that would be checked. Bhembe said another change that might take place would be that votes be counted in the same polling station, unlike before where votes were transported from all the polling stations of each inkhundla centre to be counted together in one place. On the ongoing consultations for the amendments, several stakeholders have made their submissions. The women regiment (Lutsango) has called for removal of mourning gowns during the elections. They submitted that there was fear that widows were indirectly discriminated against in the electoral processes, hence the proposal to the EBC was to have them (widows) remove their mourning gowns for those widows who had been mourning for at least six months, during the electoral year.

Last week, members of the African United Democratic Party (AUDP) were barred from making submissions to a Parliament committee because they presented themselves as a political party. The members of the political party had intentions to make submissions on the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Voters Registration (Amendment) Bill, 2023, but their intentions did not yield fruit, owing to their desire to make submissions as a party, not as individuals. Meanwhile, former Secretary to Cabinet Mbuso Dlamini suggested an amendment that returning officers should not require proof of residence at inkhundla.