News that Swaziland’s autocratic ruler King Mswati III wants the kingdom’s constitution amended so that things he has done illegally in the past become legal will surprise no one who observes the way he operates.
In particular, the king illegally appointed Barnabas Dlamini Prime Minister in 2008. The constitution states the PM must be a member of the Swazi Senate, but Dlamini was not.
The Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland reported the amendments would ‘incorporate, among other things; prerogatives of His Majesty the King, which were mistakenly omitted’.
Who says they were ‘mistakenly omitted’ is not reported by the newspaper.
Prince Guduza, Speaker in the House of Assembly, told the newspaper there were moves afoot to amend the constitution, but he would not be drawn on which parts.
The newspaper reported the Prince ‘said he would not disclose the provisions that should be amended. He hinted though that those provisions were political in nature.’
Observers of Swaziland’s recent history know that the constitution of 2005 is not worth the paper it is written on. The king chooses to ignore it whenever he wishes.
The most recent and most stark example of this happened in October 2012 when the House of Assembly passed a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. According to the constitution the king was obliged to sack the government (he had no discretion in the matter).
However, King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, ignored the vote. Instead, through his traditional structures he put pressure on the House to re-run the vote, this time ensuring it did not pass and the government survived.
Many organisations have called for Swaziland’s constitution to be rewritten in the past, but their intentions were to make the kingdom more democratic, not less.
In July 2008, the European Union declined an invitation to monitor the Swaziland national election because, it said, it was clear the kingdom was not a democracy. Later, it suggested a wholesale review of the constitution was in order.
In November 2008, the Commonwealth Expert Team, which had monitored the election called for a review because the elections were not credible since political parties were banned in Swaziland.
It said that the review ‘should be carried out through a process of full consultation with Swazi political organisations and civil society (possibly with the support of constitutional experts).’
There was very little credibility in the way in which the constitution was originally drawn up. King Mswati invited the International Bar Association (IBA) to review the first draft of the constitution and the IBA’s verdict was damning.
The report called the constitution ‘flawed’ and went so far as to cite one critic who called the constitution ‘a fraud.’
One of the IBA’s main conclusions was that the ‘position and powers’ of some ‘stakeholders’ in Swaziland, ‘including the Monarchy’ are in effect ‘actually placed above the constitution and its principles’.
The IBA said that the judiciary and NGOs were not allowed to contribute to the drafting process and individual Swazi people were interviewed in the presence of their chiefs. As a result the ‘overwhelming’ majority wanted the king to keep all his powers and wanted the position of traditional advisers to the king to be strengthened. They also wanted Swazi customs to have supremacy over any international rights obligations.
Considering how the ‘consultation’ of the Swazi people was conducted it is no surprise they reached this conclusion.