Constitutionally Speaking / Media Alert

Governing starts with the people

In theory, when a citizen votes for a parliamentary representative, that representative is meant to embody the will of the person who voted for him or her. 

shili bio shot

Phakama Shili, advocacy officer at Swaziland’s Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Swaziland), writes a weekly column for the Swazi Observer. The column, ‘Constitutionally Speaking’, considers human rights and the quest for democracy in Swaziland. Read on for this week’s article on how to create a more responsive government

Now that the people of Swaziland have nominated candidates for the next Parliament, we might interrogate the expectations of the people from those who will win the elections.

At this time, many promises (some unrealistic) will be made to lure the electorate to support certain candidates. Unfortunately, during this period, many people don’t realise the significance of their vote.
In theory, when a citizen votes for a parliamentary representative, that representative is meant to embody the will of the person who voted for him or her. That parliamentary representative, with enough votes from citizens, will possess a mandate to speak honestly on behalf of those who voted for him or her, and always in their best interests.
shili const speaking article
Parliamentarians
If members of parliament and citizens are unaware of this relationship – that democratically elected parliamentarians are bound to work for those who elected them — then that ignorance will likely lead to unaccountable and unresponsive government.
The link between democracy and human rights is captured in Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
Therefore, when citizens vote, they express their determination to be governed in a particular way. In Swaziland, where candidates can only publicly campaign after primary elections, it is more likely that worthy and ethical candidates may drop out of the race. Many good candidates, therefore, are simply prevented from showing the public an alternative. The loser in all of this is the citizen who is prevented from choosing from amongst the best candidates.
During primary elections, therefore, voters are only deciding between faces, as opposed to ideas. In practice, this has resulted in either the election of incapable MPs or recycling of one and the same faces; as we have seen in the past weekend. Following last year’s call for cabinet to be fired, one might have hoped that none of the ministers would be nominated for Parliament.
However, whether it’s the lack of quality candidates, or, maybe the public’s ignorance (due to lack of information and not enough critical thinking, owing to poor education), we will probably see the same lot entering Parliament again.
This, of course, is leaving aside the systemic problems: meaning, by design, we are bound to get rotten beans (for the many) and cheap crown land (for the few).
Hopes
For Swazi citizens to realise a better tomorrow, they must begin working together; they must work with people in the all areas of the country.
They must gather together in urban and rural areas, and discuss their hopes and dreams, then begin practical work aimed at bringing these hopes and dreams into reality. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or special: demanding quality and consistent education and health care, would be a start.
As much as the rhetoric sounds good on these topics, the reality is much different; all you need is a pair of eyes to see our country is not doing so well in education and health.
It is up to the citizens to demand something better, to work for something better, and to inform their representatives of these things. Swazis should work together (which does not always mean we will agree on everything) all year round, not just during elections or other national events. A common purpose should be in mind – quality education, for example – and this should be worked towards, one step at a time. It starts with the people, from the ground up. We will all prosper if we work together.

A printed version of this article appeared in the Swazi Observer on Thursday August 8, 2013

You will find all of Phakama’s ‘Constitutionally Speaking’ articles on MISA-Swaziland’s by clicking here

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