Tinkhundla elections, 1978-1993

Extracted from: "Swaziland" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 328-330.

The substitution of the Tinkhundla system for a competitive form of representation in both parliament and government has rendered Swaziland's electoral process uninteresting. It is not possible to analyse the results of Tinkhundla elections in the same way as competitive elections. During the period 1978-1998, Swaziland held five general elections under this system. As a matter of interest, certain aspects of these elections, particularly the first [see below] and the last one [see Fifth Tinkhundla general elections, 1998], may be pointed out.

The first Tinhkhundla general elections, 1978

Swaziland's population was put at 547 452 in 1978, the year of the first Tinkhundla election. After King Sobhuza had repeatedly promised his people to restore some form of representation, a general election was ultimately held on 27 October 1978. Even though the King had reportedly sent emissaries throughout the country to explain the nature and purpose of the Tinkhundla elections, confusion arose over many aspects of the elections. To make matters worse, the elections were held in a legal vacuum because the new constitution, under which they were being conducted, had not yet been promulgated. The election decree had simply stated that the constitution would be promulgated after the people and the King had accepted it. Furthermore, no registration of voters had taken place.

Under the Tinkhundla system, voters do not elect their representatives directly, but rather elect members of the Electoral College, who, in turn, select candidates for parliament. In the 1978 poll, in which an estimated 55% of the potential voters participated, 80 out of 160 candidates were chosen for the Electoral College. As the country's population had increased considerably since the previous election, the number of constituencies was raised from 24 to 50. Voting under the Tinkhundla system has greatly strengthened the position of the traditionalists. Voters are not required to identify themselves, and it is incumbent on chiefs to ensure that only Swazis vote.

The second Tinkhundla general elections, 1983

These were held under conditions similar to those in 1978. Although voters had not been registered, the government claimed a turnout of 80%. There were many indications that pressure been exerted on people to vote.

The third Tinkhundla general elections, 1987

As mentioned earlier on, the 1980s were turbulent years for Swaziland, and the King was under pressure to diffuse the mounting tension. He called an early general election, bringing the election scheduled for 1988 forward to October 1987.

Swaziland's population was estimated at 720 000 in 1987. As in previous elections under this system, the turnout of the electorate was low. The only departure from established practice was that after the 1987 elections, a new group of parliamentarians was selected, that is, persons who had not previously held office. Only amongst the King's ten appointees were there people who had previously served in the National Assembly.

The fourth Tinkhundla general elections, 1993

Slight changes were introduced in the 1993 general elections. Voters were registered, resulting in a tally of 283 693 people. Ostensibly in response to demographic change, the number of elective constituencies was increased from 50 to 55. There were 2 094 candidates. The authorities never released figures for the turnout but observers put it at between 13% and 15%, with the total number of voters believed not to have exceeded 100 000. All victorious candidates together received a total of only 38 882 votes. Although these elections did not substantially differ from previous ones, Western observers hailed them as "fair and free".

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