Eswatini, the last absolute monarchy in Africa, is conducting parliamentary elections despite recent pro-democracy protests. The tightly controlled kingdom, with a population of 1.2 million, has over 500,000 registered voters. Polling stations opened at 07:00 am and will close 11 hours later.
Voters are selecting 59 members for the lower house of parliament, which has an advisory role to the monarch, King Mswati III, who holds absolute power. The results, though anticipated by the opposition, which mostly calls for a boycott, will be announced shortly.
In Eswatini, political parties are prohibited, and lawmakers cannot have political affiliations. The constitution prioritizes “individual merit” for selecting MPs, and opposition groups often operate from abroad. Candidates are nominated by traditional chiefs close to the king, and most are loyal to King Mswati.
King Mswati, in power since 1986, holds constitutional authority above the law. He appoints the prime minister and the cabinet, can dissolve parliament and the government, and commands the police and army. Parliament’s acts require his approval to become law.
Despite criticism of King Mswati’s lavish lifestyle and poverty affecting nearly one-third of the population, the monarch remains entrenched in power. Criticizing the king can lead to imprisonment, and political challenges persist, as evidenced by the pro-democracy protests in 2021.