Sunday, October 25, 2009


Calls for a referendum over allowing political parties to exist in Swaziland seem to be growing.

The weekend papers have several reports and articles about the rights and wrongs of having a referendum on multiparties in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland by Royal Proclamation and supported by the recently-enacted constitution.

But there have been growing calls within Swaziland and the international community for the kingdom to become a democracy.

Now, the ruling elite have found a way of putting the argument to bed once and for all (they hope). Hold a rigged referendum that they will win.

We can confidently expect any referendum held on the subject to be rigged because there is a long history of stifling discussion in Swaziland.

The most pertinent example is the ‘consultation’ with the people over the contents of the Swaziland Constitution of 2006.

As I wrote in May 2008, the consultation over the constitution was a sham. Some people even called it ‘a fraud’.

How the debate was rigged was clearly documented by International Bar Association (IBA) in its report, Striving for Democratic Governance.

The IBA had been invited by King Mswati to comment on the process of writing the constitution that was overseen by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC).

The IBA found the CRC did not allow the judiciary or NGOs to contribute to the debate and ensured that 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.

The IBA report states, ‘The terms of reference of the Commission did not allow expressly for group submissions, and as apparently they were not entertained, NGOs per se were effectively prevented from commenting. The IBA panel considers that, unfortunately, this in itself deprived the CRC of much valuable input.’

The IBA report goes on, ‘The extent to which individual Swazis were consulted has also been questioned. The CRC did not keep records of the submissions it received and media coverage of submissions was apparently banned.

‘There is therefore no formal record of how Swazi citizens presented their views and of what in fact they said to the CRC.

‘Furthermore, information was elicited in a highly charged atmosphere. Individuals were reportedly asked, in the presence of chiefs, whether they wanted to retain the King and whether they preferred political parties.

‘The CRC report states that “there is a small minority which recommends that the powers of the monarchy must be limited” and continued that “an overwhelming majority of the nation recommends that political parties must be banned”.

‘The report concludes that “an overwhelming majority recommends that the system of Government based on the Tinkhundla must continue” and, as well as the ban on political parties being maintained, that the executive powers of the King should be maintained, the position of traditional advisers to the King strengthened, and Swazi customs have supremacy over any contrary international rights obligations.’

Under the circumstances it is difficult to see how ordinary Swazis could have come up with any other conclusion.

So the ‘debate’ on political parties and the constitution was rigged last time and it’ll be rigged next time if King Mswati has his way.

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