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With the election process now in full swing, following the dissolution of Parliament last week, ordinarily, the nation ought to be looking forward to forming a new government and, by progression, to a new dispensation but owing to the grotesque nature of the Tinkhundla political system nothing but only the faces in the Legislature will change.

As the French saying goes, ‘the more things change the more they remain the same’ within the confines of the obtaining political oligarchy. In a plural and open democracy, elections are an important element in shaping the destiny of a nation because that is when the citizens, all equal before the law, exercise their power of the ballot to vet those who they want to entrust with the onerous responsibility of governing along with their aspirations. As it were, in a pluralistic political dispensation, voting is the climax of a drawn out process largely driven by competing interests, such as those of political parties, motored by manifestos that seek the voters’ buy-ins. It is on the basis of the impact of the competing manifestos that voters are persuaded to vote for one party and not the other(s) ostensibly because it represents their values, aspirations, dreams and the best possible scenario outcomes.

Expectantly, the victorious party, once in government, ought to pursue policies and programmes in line with their manifestos that got them to power. Any deviation could cost it the next election or, worse still, find itself being ousted prematurely via a vote of no confidence. The same cannot be said to obtain under the Tinkhundla or whatever-you-want-to-call-it political system. Initially, voters go to the polls typically blindfolded and with no clue who they would nominate under the so-called individual merit-based system of the obtaining political status quo. It is only in the secondary election stage when candidates who have made it past the primary phase face-off under a tightly controlled and managed campaign platform. With no manifestos, candidates routinely promise to construct bridges even where there are no rivers or anything they think may appeal to the voters.

But most of all they use the power of money and the inherent vulnerabilities wrought by poverty and disease to bribe voters to elect them. In the rare event that voters are not bought and that they elect their favoured candidates based on their campaign promises, delivery cannot be assured. For it is not the people or their elected representatives who set the national agenda under the obtaining political hegemony.  Consequently, once in Parliament and the realisation sinks in that it is the Executive arm of government, and not the elected representatives of the people, that sets the agenda, many elected representatives end up being undertakers to their communities and general errand men and women, while those who bought their way to the Legislature simply focus on themselves.

As I see it, under this system, elections are but a ruse to mislead the world into thinking people are active participants in determining who and how they are governed. As can be gleaned, the people do not determine the national agenda, as well as government policy but they are mere recipients of a top-down decision making structure in which they have no say or influence whatsoever. Examples of this abound and were they to be enumerated upon would probably take the entire space and more of this column. But the one that stands above the rest is the call by the nation under the auspices of Sibaya, for the position of prime minister to become elective. It is the context from which the people called for an elected prime minister who needs to be examined for its worth.

That context was crystallized by frustration and exasperation when it dawned on the people that they could not hold government to account since they played no role in the appointment of the PM as head of government. The Sibaya’s resolution for people to elect the PM came about after the people had technically passed a vote of no confidence on the incumbent and his government, and wanted him to be replaced. It is only after their call for the PM to be replaced was not actioned that the people at the subsequent Sibaya called for the position to be elective. Thus it can be deduced that the people’s call was driven by the imperative to make government answerable to no one but the nation.
Regrettably, nothing has changed since then and the people are still without power.

Their elected representatives continue to play a symbolic role of rubber stamping executive decisions to give the false impression of a people-driven government. Paradoxically, successive Parliaments have remained deafeningly silent on the flaws of the system pointed out by international election observer missions that ultimately deprived these elections of credibility. Once again, at the end of the elections the findings and conclusions of international election observer missions will be no different to previous outcomes. The elections would be declared to have lacked credibility because the system does not allow for political party participation, period. Consequently, nothing would have changed and the new Parliament will remain a symbolic body to rubber stamp decisions of the Executive arm of government. That said there is still a chance to influence change from within if and when a reasonable number of like-minded people can make it to Parliament. Put differently, there is all the reason for proponents of multiparty democracy to participate in the elections in order to get their own to Parliament where they can influence the future political trajectory of the Kingdom of Eswatini.

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