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Friday, 27 March 2009

NO HINT OF DEMOCRACY IN SWAZILAND

Anyone who thinks that Swaziland’s government is democratically elected hasn’t been paying attention.


I have written a lot about the fact that King Mswati III illegally appointed Barnabas Dlamini as prime minister in October 2008. A prime minister, according to the Swaziland Constitution, must be a member of the House of Assembly: Dlamini was not when he was given the post as head of government.


King Mswati is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and he keeps a tight grip on his kingdom. Political parties are banned and although there are elections to parliament every five years these have been discredited by most international observers.


King Mswati appoints some MPs and senators and controls the government. Since the last elections held in 2008, King Mswati has ensured that every cabinet minister except one was his own appointment. That means that almost the whole government was unelected. This also includes the office of deputy prime minister.


Anyone who observes how the ruling elite keep a grip on power in Swaziland will not be surprised by this. In a population of one million people, seventy percent live in abject poverty earning less than one US dollar a day. About six in ten people needed food donated from the international community to fend off hunger in the past year.


With Swaziland in such a depressed state, the king is able to control his subjects through patronage. If you add to the list of ministers the other people who owe their jobs (think senior civil service) or their status (chiefs, for instance) to the king you can see how important his patronage is.


Despite the new Swaziland Constitution which came into effect in 2005, very little has changed in the kingdom. Parts of the constitution are simply ignored by the King and his government if it suits them.


The constitution states that at least 30 percent of members of parliament should be women, but this figure was not reached in the last election and there is no strategy in place to see that this happens anytime soon.


Earlier this month (March 2009), the Swazi High Court ruled that in line with the constitution, the Government must introduce free primary schooling for every Swazi child. The government had wanted to ignore this provision.


In 2008 a Suppression of Terrorism Act was introduced and it has consistently been used in an attempt to silence pro-democracy advocates. Journalists have been warned that if they write articles critical of the ruling elite they will be branded terrorists and face up to 25 years in prison and activists have been harassed and jailed by police.


Mario Masuku, president of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) has been in jail awaiting trial on terrorist charges since November 2008.


Barnabas Dlamini said yesterday (26 March 2009) that there will be a ‘review’of the constitution. The first thing this review should do is sack the prime minister and his government and run free elections.

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