King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini), told his parliament to ignore calls for democratic change and instead embrace the culture that allows him and his family to rule unhindered.
He was speaking at the opening of the 2020 parliament on Friday (31 January 2020).
The parliament has no powers and acts mainly as a rubber-stamp for the King. Political parties are barred from taking part in elections and the King appoints the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers. He also selects top judges and civil servants.
He appoints 10 of the 69 members of the House of Assembly. None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.
Groups that advocate for democracy are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
The King told Parliament, ‘Democracy is tailored towards the cultural norms and beliefs of each nation. we call upon all Emaswati [Swazi people] including those living abroad, to remain true to their identity.
‘They should place the interest of our nation above their own. we should cherish our unity and family relationship that has existed since our predecessors founded this great nation so many years ago.’
He added, ‘God gave each nation its unique culture to practice and pass on to future generations. there is no culture or ideology that is supreme which has to be imposed on other nations of the world.’
In September 2013 King Mswati announced that Swaziland would be ruled by what he called ‘Monarchical Democracy.’ He said this meant he would take advice from his subjects before making decisions that affected the kingdom.
The King has been under increasing criticism from democratic nations to allow his subjects the opportunity to have political parties and elect their own government.
Following the 2018 national election the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated the ‘legitimacy and credibility’ of the election was ‘significantly hampered’ because political parties were banned. The King had ‘excessive powers’ in the appointment of the Government, Parliament and the judiciary, it stated.
It added, ‘The legitimacy and credibility of the elections was significantly hampered by the design of the electoral mechanisms as a culture of political pluralism is lacking. There is no freedom of genuine and pluralistic political debate, political parties are unable to register, contest elections, field candidates or otherwise participate in the formation of a Government.’
Following the election King Mswati appointed six members of his Royal Family to the House of Assembly and eight members to the Senate.
About seven in ten of the 1.3 million population of Swaziland live in abject poverty.
The King has been criticised internationally for his lavish lifestyle. He has two private airplanes, at least 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range cars. At his 50th birthday in 2018 he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds that weighed 6 kg. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.
In November 2019 King Mswati bought a fleet of Rolls-Royce cars for himself and his family. Reports on the number purchased have ranged from 13 to 15 and they were reported to have cost up to US$4 million.
In the same month Swaziland also bought him 126 BMW cars and motorbikes to escort the Royal family around the kingdom.
By Richard Rooney
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