Swaziland
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POLL BOYCOTT POLITICAL RUSSIAN ROULETTE

Government’s choice of side-stepping dialogue in favour of focusing on elections is probably borne of a conviction by the leadership that while the former is desirous of keeping with their apt repeated cliché of believing in and subscribing to dialogue in the resolution of disputes and differences, but it was risky because its outcomes could not be pre-determined – at least until the ongoing war of attrition has completely sanitised society of elements of pro-multiparty political activists - while the latter offered a safer haven because it could easily be manipulated and its outcomes pre-determined to restore to original form whatever that was eroded since the June 2021 pro-multiparty protests.

That some proponents of political pluralism organisations have opted to boycott the elections has indeed bolstered government’s confidence in reclaiming the psychological and political upper hand once and for all to enable it to delay – but certainly not stop – the people’s appetite for political change.

Conscious

Government is conscious that when it comes to elections it holds all the aces while the same cannot be said about the much hyped national dialogue. And in Africa it is an established fact, if not norm, that sitting governments are impossible to depose through the ballot box. Sitting governments have access to enormous State resources they employ to either buy votes or simply rig outcomes by all means possible, including stuffing ballot boxes with ballots of hand-picked candidates long before the elections are conducted. In a one party, or non-party, according to the narrative of the authorities, scenario like in the case of Eswatini, this works out much easier and is less complex because there are no political parties to rock the boat. Election observers are not useful in this respect but would conform to government’s narrative.

As I see it, there are real fears from proponents of multiparty democracy that government, still smarting from the June 2021 popular protests against the obtaining political hegemony, has conjured up a strategy to ensure that the politically compromised and patronised Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) will deliver only loyalists to the next Parliament to insulate the Tinkhundla political system from the bellowing winds of change. Indeed there is a valid argument over the capacity of the EBC, in its current form, to deliver a free and fair election even without under any circumstances because its members are sworn to uphold and protect the Tinkhundla system, period.

But all things considered, is it a wise decision by some political parties to boycott the elections? To properly interrogate this question would require contextualising it on the backdrop of a hostile political environment buttressed by the failure of external interventions following the mass murders of political activists during and post the June 2021 protests and the ongoing clandestine war of attrition against individuals, especially the youth, suspected and profiled to be supporters of political parties. But is boycotting in their best interests and those of the nation, especially their support base. There had been hope that the intervention of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) would persuade the ruling class to convene an all-inclusive political dialogue.

Regime

But two years – and counting – later the regime has shown no appetite for any dialogue whatsoever but conveniently used attacks against members of the security forces by so-called solidarity forces to divert focus from dialogue by crying terrorism. But SADC, through its Organ Troika, has proven to be ineffective and a paper tiger unable to deliver an African solution to an African problem, to use an old cliché of the African leadership collective when protecting its despotic leadership. SADC was also least concerned by the body count of emaSwati political activists martyred by the State’s security forces. In other words, SADC endorsed and continues to support actions of the State to allow the regime to regain its political foothold.

But in the midst of this SADC-created gloom, a ray of sunshine has recently emerged from the dark political clouds hovering over emaSwati from the United States Congress with a resolution by Senate to apply targeted sanctions against individuals who are guilty of human rights transgressions. While this measure may not be enough, but it may atone for the atrocities visited by the State on political activists during and after the June 2021 protests to the current nocturnal harassment, often accompanied by assaults and torture, of citizens by heavily armed bands enforcing an illegal curfew that government is dismissively not aware of. But is boycotting the elections a good political strategy in light of SADC’s dead diplomatic intervention? There is no one answer to this question but may require interrogation from multiple prisms. The primary reason for abstaining, we are informed, is that participation will equate to endorsing and validating the Tinkhundla political system that has taken this country into an abyss of social ills, including grinding poverty, looting of public resources, including minerals, and pervasive institutional corruption now embedded as a sub-culture not to speak of the concomitant leadership frailties and failures.

As I see it, the choice of boycotting the elections completely may be ill-advised and stillborn because it is incoherent and short on how it hopes to achieve political changes. A boycott seems to be a licence for the regime to continue, if not hasten, its melee of governance nightmares. Another middle of the road option that could have been considered by the boycotting political parties could have been mobilising their members to register for but not actually vote in the elections.

Data

That data could then be used to create a springboard, as a de factor plebiscite, for domestic mobilisation to dismantle the Tinkhundla political system once and for all. For ultimately only a domestic solution will resolve this domestic political imbroglio. There is also this question apropos boycotts; is it a top-down decision from the leadership of the various political formations or is it the choice of the publics which form their support base? This question is germane in addressing the questions of credibility, legitimacy, validation, etc., of either the elections or the political status quo in the event the EBC achieves its target of registering 650 000 voters and a respectable percentage of these does cast their votes. That could become a litmus test on the very existence of political parties and their demand for a place in the political space. Conversely boycotting the elections could be political suicide for the continued existence of political parties, let alone to the much desired political changes. The question is: Are the political parties boycotting the elections not playing a political Russian roulette?