Swaziland is tallying up results from parliamentary elections that opposition figures and many international observers called a sham process engineered by the country’s king to retain a tight grip on power.
Final results were expected on Saturday, one day after the voting for 55 seats in parliament. Political parties were not allowed to participate, and King Mswati III will select another 10 candidates for the 65-member assembly. Swaziland also has a 30-member senate that is appointed by the king and the assembly.
Mswati has ruled since 1986 following the death of his father, King Sobhuza III. The kingdom of more than 1 million people, about one third of whom were registered to vote, has high rates of unemployment and AIDS.
The people of Swaziland have been voting in elections that opposition figures say are undemocratic and should be boycotted, and therefore unlikely to usher in major changes.
History of harassment
Election candidates are handpicked locally by traditional chiefs, who are loyal to the king.
Mswati has been accused of harassing and jailing pro-democracy activists.
A new constitution was introduced in 2005, but analysts say it did not go far enough in addressing calls for reform.
The parliamentary elections are held every five years.
This monarchal democracy is a marriage between the traditional monarchy and the ballot box, all working together under the monarchy
Voting proceeded peacefully on Friday and there were long lines at some polling stations.
It was unclear whether the boycott was having an impact as some pro-reform figures had decided to participate in the election.
Election officials said they would announce the results on Saturday.
Mswati holds ultimate sway over the government: he can veto new laws, dissolve parliament and may not be sued or charged.
Opposition groups including the banned Pudemo party and South Africa-based Swaziland Solidarity Network have called for a boycott of the poll.
Mswati recently described the system as a “monarchical democracy”.
“It’s just a name so people can understand,” said the monarch, educated at an exclusive English boarding school, to Reuters news agency in a rare interview.
“The world really doesn’t understand the Tinkhundla system, but everybody can understand monarchal democracy.
“It’s an English name. This monarchal democracy is a marriage between the traditional monarchy and the ballot box, all working together under the monarchy.”
US-based rights group Freedom House said in a damning report this month that although the Swazi government “boasts trappings of a modern state … the monarch chooses and controls all significant office bearers”.
“These must obey his commands at all times,” the group said.
But the presence of a handful of reform-minded candidates has led some commentators to speculate that Swaziland’s royals may be preparing a more inclusive government that could bring gradual change.
Locked between Mozambique and South Africa, Swaziland remains one of the world’s poorest countries, though its monarch is said to be worth about $200m.
About 70 percent of the 1.2 million people live below the poverty line, according to the UN. At the same time, 31 percent of adults live with HIV or AIDS, according to a 2012 survey.
Mswati has 13 wives and last weekend announced his engagement to a 14th.
The queens each have their own palaces and are notorious for overseas shopping sprees.