Mbabane - Thousands of Swazis voted Saturday in the first round of parliamentary elections that pro-democracy groups have dismissed as window dressing in Africa's last absolute monarchy.
Around 415 000 people registered to vote for candidates who are standing as individuals in the southern African country where political parties have been banned for 40 years.
Amid pressure on King Mswati III to allow multiparty democracy, the spokesman of the Swazi opposition People's Democratic Movement, Zakhele Mabuza, dismissed the polls as futile.
"Fine, people have gone out to vote, but what purpose does it serve if they do not have political power to govern?" he asked.
The general secretary of a regional civil society group, the Southern African People's Solidarity Network, also rubbished the vote as a window dressing exercise to buy time and delay genuine democratic reforms.
"There is no political change that we can expect as a result of these elections," Collins Magalasi told AFP.
"Because the traditional system in place supports the king, he still wields enormous power over the courts, parliament and the executive."
The final round of voting takes place on 20 September in the tiny mountain kingdom of 1.1 million people.
The first vote takes place at the level of chiefdoms where five to 10 candidates have been nominated.
The winning individuals then go through to the secondary vote to select lawmakers in 55 constituencies.
"We have confidence in our candidate that he will bring the development and opportunities we want," said Gcinile Ngwenya, a 20-year-old voter in the northern chiefdom of Ludzibini.
Parliament has 65 members, with the 55 seats selected during the polls and 10 appointed by the king.
At least three activists were arrested and charged with sedition early this year during protests against the king's rule.