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Journalists Denied To Enter Counting Centers During Election in Eswatini
Once again the Kingdom of Eswatini infringed the freedom of press by denying journalists’ entrance to some of the counting centers during the elections. The Kingdom of Eswatini went to the polls today 21 September 2018 where the public was choosing Members of Parliament as well as Constituency Headmen.
Journalists who wanted to enter the vote counting centers were compelled to sign a declaration of secrecy form, a form that would prevent them to publish or disclose any information they gathered during the vote counting process. According to Eswatini Broadcasting Information and Services (EBIS), Mhlume Polling station was one of the polling stations where journalists had tough time in entering the counting Centre.
Explaining the situation on EBIS was Elections and Boundaries Chairperson Chief Gija who expressed that through consultations in the election’s legislations, they found that people need to sign the declaration of secrecy (which is form number 6) in order to enter the counting centers. He explained that this was done to protect things that can happen during the counting of votes, things that are not supposed to be publicized. When asked to make an example of those things, Chief Gija made an example of a crying candidate or a conflict between two candidates which is something that a journalist can find to be newsworthy and report about it.
According to the legislation people who are allowed to enter the counting Centre are Returning Officer, Counting Officers, Presiding Officer or Officers, Polling Officers, Members of Commission, Candidates or candidate’s agents, Election Observers or monitors and any registered voter allowed by the returning Officer to witness the vote count. Chief Gija then advised that the media can use the last wing to enter the counting Centre but only if the will be allowed by the Returning Officer as well as signing the declaration of secrecy form as stipulated in the Election Legislation.
During the Primary Elections, the Elections and Bounderies Committee was criticized by Observers for denying them to enter some of the polling station and compelling them to sign the secrecy form. What worth mentioning is that the Observers were later allowed to enter the voting centers without signing the declaration of secrecy form after explaining their role to the Election and Boundaries Committee?