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Regardless of what anyone may say, the people of eSwatini have turned out in large numbers to vote in the Tinkhundla primary elections. Even before the official results started coming in last night, the voter registration had already been described as "very impressive" by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

 While the official statistics on the percentage of voter turnout have not been revealed yet, the excitement surrounding the elections could be felt throughout the country. The enthusiasm for the elections in a country that has recently experienced unprecedented violence, along with the increased calls for democratic reforms from the international community, has left international observers perplexed.

At the same time, it has strengthened the government's belief that the Tinkhundla system is still favored by the people. In fact, the government has become so confident that the King's recent statement at the SADC summit was almost a warning to the regional body to stay out of their affairs. This confidence was evident in a recent SABC interview with Alpheous Nxumalo, the government spokesperson, along with Mduduzi Simelane, the founding President of the Swaziland Liberation Movement (SWALIMO), and Mlungisi Makhanya, the President of the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

Nxumalo sarcastically mocked Simelane's party for rejecting the Tinkhundla elections while still participating in them and dismissed PUDEMO's rejection of the elections as mere rumblings in the jungle lacking the support of the people on the ground. And it seems there is evidence to support Nxumalo's claims. One would have expected that after experiencing such tragic violence from the government, the people would reject the elections or at least vote for candidates from political parties that want democratic reforms.

However, prominent members of political parties advocating for the reintroduction of multi-party politics have lost in the primary elections in a surprising manner. Even though it is still too early to determine how other progressive candidates who participated in the elections have fared it is safe to say it does look good. What we do know however is that prominent members of parties that want a reintroduction of multi party politics have lost at the primary elections in a way that many did not expect.

People lining up to vote during the Tinkhundla elections 

Whether this is Thantaza Silolo, the spokesperson of SWALIMO, or Ngomyayona Gamedze, the Sibahle Sinje leader (to name but two), the progressives have tumbled at the polls. And they have conceded defeat in a dignified manner, never accusing the electoral body of rigging the results, further confirming the government´s positions that elections in the country are "free and fair".

For anyone familiar with the country's politics, the call for a boycott of the elections has become irrelevant noise from people who only seek to argue with their opponents on social media than influence people on the ground. Meanwhile, people in communities have gone out of their way to register and participate in the elections. Official EBC statistics for the last elections showed that 156 973 Swazis cast their vote out of a total of 544 310 registered voters.

This was a 28.83% turnout. These numbers, which suggested a low confidence in the electoral process in the country, were later removed from the Electoral Commission website. They were briefly online as an annexure to a report released in November 2020. This year, the EBC has indicated that they did not do much to advertise the elections. Swazis took it upon themselves to mobilize each other to vote, partly motivated by SWALIMO's call for "change," but also because there was no credible alternative presented.

Those who called for an election boycott now need to reflect on their stance. Whether on social media or in person, the evidence shows that the people did not overwhelmingly heed the call for a boycott. Those who advocated for participation in the elections have inadvertently helped the government make a case for the continuation of the Tinkhundla system. The question now is how the progressives will justify to SADC, or during the proposed dialogue, that the Swazi people do not want Tinkhundla.

To see the government's arrogance and contempt towards anyone calling for system reform, one only needs to wait for the next Alpheous Nxumalo interview on any platform. As one activist observed recently, there is no shortcut to revolution. There is no cutting corners in people led agenda for change.