Sunday, October 14, 2012


The current political crisis in Swaziland demonstrates one thing clearly: the kingdom’s constitution is not worth the paper it is written on.

Nearly two weeks ago the Swazi House of Assembly passed a vote of no confidence in the government by a three-fifths majority.  According to the constitution when such a vote takes place the king is mandated to sack the Cabinet: he has no discretion in the matter.

But, since the vote took place King Mswati III has not fulfilled his constitutional obligation. 

Instead, the king’s advisers, the government and most of the Swazi media have been waiting for King Mswati himself to decide whether he would accept the result of the vote. If he agrees with the House, the government goes: if he disagrees, it stays.

And, that is the heart of the matter. Swaziland is not a constitutional democracy, it is an absolute monarchy. This is despite the fact that King Mswati himself signed the 2005 Constitution into law.

In the absolute monarchy of Swaziland the king rules and nothing can be done without his agreement. He instructs the government and parliament what to do and he overrules government decisions if he wishes. Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini himself publicly admitted this in August 2012 when he told the Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland that the government belonged to His Majesty.

He told the newspaper, ‘Government listens when His Majesty speaks and we will always implement the wishes of the King and the Queen mother.’

He said this when after a six-week pay strike by teachers which saw government sacking teachers and refusing to negotiate, King Mswati instructed both sides to end the dispute, for the teachers to be reinstated and for negotiations to commence. The teachers willing agreed and the government, with some reluctance, agreed.

King Mswati is no respecter of the constitution. In 2008, he appointed Barnabas Dlamini as Prime Minister even though under the constitution Dlamini did not qualify for the office.

So what happens in the current political crisis? Only one thing should happen: the King (albeit belatedly) should announce that the constitution is the supreme law of the land and the government is sacked.

The likelihood is that he will not do so. He is an experienced man, he understands, without the need for ‘advisers’ what the Constitution says, but although he understands it we must assume that he does not respect it. He is probably hoping that delays will allow a head of steam to be created among anti-democrats in his kingdom to cast doubt on the validity of the vote; that parliamentarians who supported the no-confidence vote will be bullied into reversing their decision and that public opinion will be manipulated to believe that the Prime Minister has done nothing that deserves his sacking.

If the government survives this no-confidence vote, it will be because the constitution has been ignored. The constitution will be worthless and any claims that King Mswati might make in the international arena that his kingdom is a democracy will be exposed.

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