Thursday, October 4, 2018

Swaziland faces continued unrest, risk to stability growing, Govt broke, says global analyst Fitch

Swaziland faces a period of continued unrest because the recent election was unable to change anything, according to global analysts Fitch Solutions. Risks to stability in the kingdom are growing, it said.

This is because King Mswati III rules as an absolute monarch and the parliament has no powers.

In an analysis following the election on 21 September 2018 in Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by the King) Fitch said it was ‘unlikely to defuse tensions that have led to clashes between protestors and security services over recent weeks, as elected parliamentary officials have very little real power.’

It said, ‘We therefore expect continued incidents of unrest as citizens vent their frustrations, with these protests likely to be met with a heavy-handed response by the government.

It added, ‘We retain the view that unrest is unlikely to escalate into a complete breakdown of law and order, as the king will continue to enjoy the support of the security services and of regional leaders.

‘That said, we believe that risks to stability are growing, and we have decreased our short-term political risk index score for Eswatini as a result.’

People in Swaziland are only allowed to elect 59 members of the House of Assembly, the King appoints a further 10. None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 and 10 are elected by the House of Assembly.

Fitch said the two houses of parliament, ‘are merely advisory bodies that have little influence over King Mswati III and his handpicked cabinet. Furthermore, political parties are banned in Eswatini with all elected officials standing independently. The small amount of power that elected representatives hold is therefore rarely unified to achieve specific policy goals. 

‘Indeed, preliminary figures suggest that only around a quarter of registered voters cast their ballots, demonstrating the public's lack of faith in the electoral process as an expression of popular will.’

Fitch in its analysis of the immediate future of Swaziland said, ‘We believe that there are likely to be further clashes between protestors and the Eswatini authorities over the coming quarters. Economic growth is likely to remain extremely weak amid faltering growth in neighbouring South Africa and this will weigh on fiscal revenues, limiting the government’s ability to meet trade union demands for a 7.0 percent increase in public sector pay. 

‘Fiscal revenues rely heavily on income from the Southern African Customs Union, which in turn is dependent on South African demand that looks set to remain weak over the coming quarters.

‘The Eswatini government is essentially broke and is relying on the domestic banking sector to finance spending. Against this backdrop, we see little prospect of the authorities ceding to public workers' demands for higher wages.’

Fitch reported, ‘Frustrations are likely to be fanned by King Mswati and senior figures in his government continuing to live extravagantly. The king reportedly wore a diamond encrusted suit and a US$1.6m watch at independence celebrations in April, which came shortly after the delivery of his second private jet, costing a reported US$30m

‘Public sector workers conducted a three-day strike and protested against the government's refusal to increase salaries in mid-September. The police met these protests with a heavy hand, using rubber bullets and tear gas, and reportedly fired live rounds into the air to disperse protestors. The authorities have since banned further strikes, a move that will further fuel public anger, in our view.

‘At this stage, we do not believe that unrest will escalate to a breakdown in law and order or force a significant alteration to the country's political structure. The security services remain loyal to the king and his government, and will continue to respond aggressively to signs of dissent, which will help to prevent unrest from gathering momentum. 

‘Additionally, regional governments and South Africa in particular, are unlikely to be keen to see a complete breakdown of law and order in their “backyard” and will therefore continue to provide political support to the king and his government.’

See also

Swaziland King appoints six of his own family to House of Assembly and more expected in Senate House

Police Turn Swaziland City Into ‘Warzone’ as National Strike Enters Second Day

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