Published September 23, 2013
MBABANE (AFP) – A pro-democracy activist who won a seat in Swaziland's parliament in elections criticised by regional observers vowed on Monday to fight for reform in Africa's last absolute monarchy.
The tiny mountain kingdom elected 55 lawmakers Friday in a system that an African Union mission faulted for barring political parties.
According to official results, 46 of the 55 lawmakers were new to parliament.
One of them, 60-year-old Jan Sithole, the president of the Swaziland Democratic Party (Swadepa), a vocal critic of the current political setup, vowed to change the government from the inside.
"The election procedure that prevails currently emphasises... that you can only intervene as an individual, and we agreed as a party that we will use that... to advocate our beliefs," Sithole told AFP in an interview.
Swadepa resolved to "achieve a multi-party Swaziland but through a strategy of participating, as opposed to non-participation," he added.
"Quite a few" other candidates of his party won seats too, though Sithole declined to name them.
King Mswati III, 45, retains immense power under the current system, which allows him to appoint two-thirds of parliament's upper house as well as the prime minister.
Some opposition groups had called for a boycott of the polls, which were to elect candidates hand-picked by traditional chiefs loyal to the king.
Around 415,000 people -- roughly a third of the population -- registered to vote, but official turnout figures were unavailable.
Political parties are not uniformly banned, but cannot contest elections.
An African Union observer mission noted that people's rights "to political assembly and association are not fully enjoyed."
"This was evidenced by the mission observation that candidates contested elections as individuals and not under political parties," it said in a statement.
Meanwhile in its preliminary observer report, the regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC) hailed "orderly and peaceful elections", without referring to the political system.
Locked between Mozambique and South Africa, Swaziland remains one of the world's poorest countries, though its monarch is said to be worth around $200 million.
Around 70 percent of the people live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations. And about 31 percent of adults live with HIV or AIDS, according to a 2012 survey.