Swaziland
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THINK BEFORE YOU VOTE

The process of renewing the social contract between the people and government began in earnest on Wednesday, as registration centres opened doors to the electorate. The Oxford Dictionary describes a social contract as the agreement among citizens to behave in a way that benefits everybody who forms the basis of society.

Essentially, by registering to vote, people are agreeing to choose individuals to represent their best interests and those to be chosen are putting themselves up to work in the best interest of the voters and the greater good of our society as emaSwati. Easier said than done, of course, and with all that the country has been through over the past five years, not least the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating effects on the economy and the June 29, 2021 unrests, it is the election results that will provide an assessment of how the people’s representatives behaved in honouring their side of the contract and the reaction of the voters thereto.

A target has been set by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to have at least 650 000 people register to vote, which is aimed at surpassing the 547 426 who registered in 2018 by at least 14 per cent, which represented an 84 per cent of the eligible voter population. This is the target the EBC had set for the previous election which they hope to achieve this time around. Whether they do remains to be seen, but what is certain is that more people are conscious of the country’s political landscape and have come to appreciate its diverse dynamics, both good and bad. Social media has played a big part in this development, particularly in the minds of the youth who were the ‘king makers’ in the previous election.

Statistics from the 2018 National Elections Report show that 194 551 youth, aged between 18 and 35, registered for the elections, followed by the 36 to 59 year-olds at 190 939. This trend is most likely to repeat itself, particularly as it is the youth who were in the forefront of the protests and violent unrest incidents, and it is mainly the youth who were impacted by the job losses during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Assumption

It is, therefore, my assumption, that it is the youth who may have the biggest say on who gets to say with whom they get to sign the social contract. And while we saw more women voters in 2018, registering 53 per cent, one expects men to be on top this time around. I don’t see the calls to boycott the elections by some of the progressive formations as having any negative effect on numbers. If anything, it is their opposite fellow emaSwati in the struggle who are pushing for their members to register and participate in the elections, as they plan to ‘infiltrate’ the system to place more candidates in Parliament.

More so, because the country has had ‘anti-election’ campaigns at almost every election, but the registration numbers have always risen. Not everybody registered ends up voting though.    For instance, 331 422 eligible voters participated in the primary elections, which reflects a 61 per cent turnout. Similar statistics (61 per cent turnout) were recorded during the secondary elections. However, while the numbers will tell the story better, it becomes more meaningful if each story contains the essential qualities of what the vote cast is worth. People need to understand the responsibility that each vote carries and, more importantly, to the nominees or eventual winners, what the expectation entails.

Many a time we have written and encouraged the electorate to place responsibility on individuals who can be trusted to deliver on the social contract entered into by both parties. Often, we have seen one party use the ignorance of the other for personal gain, as opposed to the benefit of the Eswatini society. This is what has given rise to the calls to amend the Elections Act of 2013 to incorporate the power of recall among several constituencies which raised this during the civic and voter education exercise.

If this amendment does not happen now, those who are to be nominated have an obligation to respond to how the society wants them to be governed, as they carry out their part of the agreement. It should, ideally, be one of the questions the nominees need to be asked and be prepared to respond to help the voter decide if they are worth their vote. 
It should also be about determining whether those nominated fully appreciate the challenges facing this country that need the right policies, legislation and regulations to move this country in the right direction. Service delivery has contributed to the social discord and those vying for Parliament seats should have a sound, logical plan or solutions.
Voters need to understand that if they abdicate on this responsibility, they will only get in return the quality of what they put into Parliament.