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"If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought"

Whether by design or sheer luck, in choosing the name Tinkhundla to describe their system, the monarchy bought itself a good deal of time through a word (or phrase) open to two interpretations. When Tinkhundla is criticised, Silver-tongued propagandists claim that pro-democracy activists are against the constituency based system and seek to replace it with a party based system.

This is despite the fact that Tinkhundla as an electoral system is not per se undemocratic because many countries practice it except they call it a different name: First Past The Post system (FPTP). It is only when one has lengthy discussions or reads through relatively obscure political literature that one finds that Tinkhundla, from the democratic standpoint, refers to the power structure, which situates the King at the apex, with unchecked and unbalanced powers.

The pro-decomocracy movement has not done enough to describe the alternative electoral system they have in mind. For the most part, it seems the general strategy is to cross that bridge once "liberation" is attained. At worst they just want the unbanning of political parties and that's it.

Elderly voting in the 2018 elections. Writer says there is a lot to improve in the Tinkhundla electoral system

Having seen the turnout at these recent elections, our sense is that the constituent representative part is not bad per se and those agitating for change would do well to mould their proposed alternatives with constituency representation built in.

For purposes of service delivery, it would help to use the present Tinkhundla model but stretch it beyond its minimalistic and linear outlook. There would be nothing undemocratic, for example, to suggest that a future democratic eSwatini must consider electing Bucopho as akin to constituency councillors representing different imiphakatsi, then the Indvuna as akin to a constituency Mayor.

This is a necessary conversation that all those who promise an alternative future must contend with seriously. It would be a big mistake to reject the Tinkhundla electoral process wholesomely without improving it to make it more democratic and inclusive.

It is about time we have a new conversation on an electoral system that will be inclusive, democratic and representative beyond just rhetoric and meaningless catchphrases. Such a system must take some good things from the present Tinkhundla electoral process.

Such a system would mean learning best practices from the region. For example, in South Africa members of the National Assembly and the nine provincial legislatures are elected according to the Proportional Representation (PR) system. This system allows both big and small parties to be represented.

Zimbabwean parliament

In explaining why the drafters of the South Constitution chose the PR system for the national assembly, former Minister Aziz Pahad reasoned that they wanted to have as much representation of different constituencies in parliament.

He said that if they had used the first past the post system the ANC would have had a whitewash in the first democratic elections, given the popularity of Mandela and the ruling ANC. At present, any party with just 50 000 votes has at least one representative in parliament.

However, the disadvantage of the PR system is that elected representatives owe their positions to the party and are therefore not directly accountable to the public. For municipal or local elections, South Africa combines PR and constituency representation, something that we can adopt in our own country.

In Zimbabwe, they use a “first past the post” system with single member constituencies where the candidate with the most votes wins a seat in the House of Assembly/Senate. While the system ensures accountability to constituents for those elected FPTP has, however, tended to create outright winners who care little about building bridges with contesting parties.

Therefore, used on its own, FPTP tends to fail in the proposed task of healing political wounds. It is in this vein that a future democratic eSwatini would need to merge the "Tinkhundla" FPTP system with proportional representation to come up with the best electoral system for the parliamentary vote and PR proper for the senate.

South African parliament 

Therefore, the Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MPPR), as used in Lesotho, would entail that FPTP would be used for contested parliamentary seats while PR would come into force for compensatory seats which, in the current situation, are occupied by non-constituency MPs appointed by the King.

But this cannot be done unless we unban political parties, engage in a dialogue to agree on a new democratic, inclusive and participatory electoral system and then to weed the powers of the king so that he does not enjoy executive authority. As things stand, all elections in the country have one winner, King Mswati.