THE primary currency of the obtaining Tinkhundla Political System is the individual merit-based election of individuals to Parliament and the lesser positions of indvuna and bucopho, which is proving to be a ruse with each passing election since the system was imposed on emaSwati as an experiment close to 30 years ago.
Patrons and the vanguard of the political hegemony routinely sing praises of the system as grassroots democracy ostensibly because it ensures that elected individuals are from within their communities – as if they would come from outer space in an alternative political system - with a proven track record of service to the people. This presupposes that no one who does not meet this criterion can be considered for election. Of course that is a fib!
Like in a multiparty democratic dispensation, Tinkhundla elections are also preceded by registration of voters in which the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) plays a central role in coercing the people to register. Unlike in a multiparty political dispensation where political parties mobilise the citizenry beyond their membership to register, no one else is allowed to do so under the political status quo. Whether by design or coincidence rumours routinely surface during the voter registration periods that those eligible to vote but elect not to register could in future have difficulties accessing government services, including scholarships, as well as employment opportunities in the civil service and the security services. As can be expected, no one takes such rumours lightly because the regime has been known to ostracise, malign and marginalise, if not persecute, those it perceives to be opposed to the system and, as such, oblige by registering.
Consequently, a high number of registered voters automatically translates into active support for and endorsement of the obtaining political hegemony. By progression, the leadership hopes this would in turn earn the Tinkhundla Political System the much craved for credibility apropos the sceptical international community. But if the ever mounting international pressure on the leadership to democratize the Kingdom of Eswatini is anything to go by then this objective has failed to achieve the desired outcomes save for some academics at the local university beholden to the system.
The three-pronged election process – perhaps the world’s most expensive to run per capita – then begins with the nomination of candidates ostensibly based on their usefulness and contributions in their varied communities, which is the central currency of the so-called grassroots-based democracy. Notably, the would-be nominees are not allowed to campaign and canvass for nominations.
While disqualification is the ultimate censure for canvassing for votes before the official campaigning period is opened, there is no mechanism in place to ensure compliance in a country famed for over-legislating given the leadership’s overzealous fixation of controlling while denying the populace basic freedoms. Given this vacuum in terms of enforcing compliance with a law that is apparently at odds with the Constitution, canvassing for nominations is routinely done under the legal radar.
After all those raising the names of nominees are also not compelled or required by law to state the basis – in terms of prerequisite as required by the system - for nominating their candidates. Instead it is the candidates who are asked if they will stand or not. The scenes of jubilation often culminating with nominees being lifted high into the air, an act later condemned by the EBC, somewhat does lend credence to this school of thought of pre-nomination campaigning. A rented and regimented crowd is always distinguishable from a sporadic group of people reacting spontaneously to something as it would be in the case of the nomination of an innocent candidate who had not canvassed to be nominated.
In addition, there is also no discernible evidence that the nominees are or have been of any value to their communities in the majority of cases, at least in my immediate constituency of Msunduza Location in Mbabane East Inkhundla. The fact is a majority of the nominees in most constituencies hardly attend community meetings thus discrediting the individual merit narrative as nonsensical. Hence the suggestions from some quarters that traditional leaders should be present to vouch for the nominees before they are accepted as candidates. But these proposals were short down as being intrusive and unwarranted as they would give traditional leaders unfettered powers to determine candidates.
The fact that this proposal has been raised is also confirmatory of the inherent fatal weakness of the electoral process of the Tinkhundla Political System that automatically devalues to below zero its currency of individual merit-based election.
As I see it, yet another illusion of the Tinkhundla Political System is that there is no campaigning between the nominations and the primary elections. Yet campaigning happens all the time. In fact the official ban on campaigning at this point has created petty criminal cabals who prey on the candidates by wagering votes. Often it is not the candidates but these petty criminal groups that call, or summon, the candidates with promises of voter support bases. At the end of the day, no night, they naturally expect the candidates to pay for the promised votes.
Like the Tinkhundla Political System itself, would-be lawmakers start their journey to Parliament on a false and faulty foundation of crime and corruption. And in all honesty, the majority of the hopefuls see Parliament as nothing but a feeding trough and that it is their time to feed rather than an institution through which they can influence the change that is desirous to rescue this country from the abyss.
And that can only happen through radical political transformation because in its current form, Parliament is toothless and a rubber stamp for the agenda of the privileged political elites.