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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Swazis count parliamentary votes
King Mswati III
King Mswati continues to retain absolute power
Counting is under way in parliamentary elections in Swaziland, the last absolute monarchy in sub-Saharan Africa.

No official turnout figures have been released, but Radio Swaziland is reporting that voters stayed away in the eastern Lubombo region.

Union leaders say the turnout in cities is also low after their calls for a boycott.

Opposition groups believe the poll is meaningless in a country where political parties are banned, and the legislature can only advise King Mswati III.

The king's supporters say the parliamentary vote, which takes place every five years, is a step in the right direction.

Several members of outlawed parties contested seats as independent candidates, including former Prime Minister Obed Dlamini.

The king, who has ignored court rulings in the past, says political differences are better resolved through negotiation.

A number of organisations, including the Commonwealth, sent teams to observe the election.

Voters were choosing 55 members for Swaziland's 65-seat lower House of Assembly, with the 10 others to be appointed.

Split

''What attracts people to wanting to be MPs is the salaries, the perks and the status,'' political activist Charles Khoza told Reuters news agency.

Archive picture of pro-democracy campaigners
Pro-democracy campaigners are vocal in opposition to the king
The BBC's Franz Kruger says Swaziland remains overwhelmingly poor and rural, with support for the traditional monarchy still strong.

But he says that in the cities there is a new spirit of opposition with many expressing their support for a multi-party democracy.

Election officials had said turnout was expected to be low in the capital Mbabane and industrial centre Manzini, because of cold weather.

"I would have loved to go and elect a parliamentary representative for my constituency, but unfortunately... I have a family to support and I cannot abscond work and go to vote," said James Dlamini, a security guard.

Only in rural areas did voters come out in force, with more than 1,000 voters recorded at one polling station.

"We were warned by our chiefs at a meeting that those who boycott such a national duty will be punished," said Ben Ngubane, 55, in Ntjonjeni, about 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of Mbabane.

Swaziland is also discussing a controversial new constitution which is likely to maintain the king's position as monarch.


SEE ALSO:
Swazi ritual killing warning
02 Jun 03  |  Africa
Swazis shun general strike
19 Dec 02  |  Africa
Swazi court defies king
01 Nov 02  |  Africa
Profile: Troubled King Mswati
04 Dec 01  |  Africa
Country profile: Swaziland
10 Jan 01  |  Country profiles


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