King Mswati III of Swaziland is to fly in the face of international opposition and continue his ban on political parties at the national elections next year (2013).
Political parties have been banned since 1973 when Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza II, tore up the Swazi constitution and ruled by decree.
Today, King Mswati is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
This week, Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in the Swaziland Government, handpicked by King Mswati, confirmed that there would be no changes to the way the national elections would be run. This means parties are banned and only candidates standing as individuals can compete for election.
This flies in the face of international opinion. At the last election in 2008, the European Union refused to send a delegation to monitor the fairness of the election. It said at the time that it was clear that Swaziland was not a democracy.
The Pan-African Parliament, which did monitor the election, reported, ‘The non-participation of political parties makes these elections extraordinary from any others but we hope with time things will change.’
In 2003, the Commonwealth Expert Team (CET) which observed that year’s election, concluded, ‘We do not regard the credibility of these National elections as an issue: no elections can be credible when they are for a Parliament which does not have power and when political parties are banned’.
After the 2008 election the CET repeated its view that Swazi elections were not credible and called for Swaziland’s constitution to be rewritten to unban political parties and ‘ensure that Swaziland’s commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal’.
Since the 2008 election there have been many mass protests in Swaziland calling for the unbanning of political parties and other reforms.
These calls have been supported by international organisations. Among them is the International Commission of Jurists which says people in Swaziland have a fundamental right to form political parties.
At present the Swaziland Parliament has few powers. Of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, 10 are chosen by King Mswati and 55 are elected as individuals by the people. In the senate King Mswati chooses 20 of the 30 places. The other 10 are chosen by members of the House of Assembly. None are elected by the people.
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