Lisa Peterson, United States Ambassador to Swaziland / eSwatini, has renewed her call for the Royal Decree that keeps King Mswati III in power as an absolute monarch to be scrapped.
She said that failure to unequivocally revoke the 1973 proclamation created uncertainty and hindered development in the kingdom.
She was speaking at an event to mark the US Independence Day which falls on 4 July. She also renewed her call for political parties to be allowed to operate and contest elections.
On 12 April 1973 King Sobhuza II proclaimed a Royal Decree after he objected to his subjects electing members of a political party that was not under his control. He tore up the kingdom’s constitution that had been in place since Swaziland gained independence from Britain in 1968. Even though Swaziland adopted a new constitution in 2006, the kingdom, now ruled by King Mswati, remains an absolute monarchy.
In his decree King Sobhuza announced, ‘I have assumed supreme power in the Kingdom of Swaziland and that all Legislative, Executive and Judicial power is vested in myself.’
Swaziland holds national elections but the people are only allowed to choose 59 members of the House of Assembly, the King appoints another 10. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people, the King appoints 20 and the House elects 10. The King appoints the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, as well as senior judges and civil servants.
Immediately following the most recent election in 2018, the King appointed eight members of his Royal Family to the kingdom’s Senate and six to the House of Assembly. Later, in April 2019, he appointed 28 members of his family to various committees and boards in the kingdom, including 10 princes and princesses to the 23-member Liqoqo, a supreme traditional advisory body which is also known as the Swazi National Council Standing Committee. This group rules on matters relating to Swazi traditional law and customs.
King Mswati also appointed seven members of his family to the 17-member Ludzidzini Council, a group of senior traditionalists centred around the King’s Ludzidzini Palace. The Ludzidzini governor is also known as the traditional prime minister and has more status in the kingdom than Ambrose Dlamini the man King Mswati appointed Prime Minister to lead the cabinet the King also hand-picked.
Ambassador Peterson has called for the Royal Decree to be scrapped before. Last year she wrote an article that was published in both of Swaziland two national newspapers saying, ‘Former Minister of Justice Edgar Hillary went to Geneva in 2017 and told the United Nations Human Rights Commission that the 1973 Decree had been repealed by the Constitution. If this can be said to the outside world, why can it not be explicitly stated to the Swati nation? And if the Decree has truly been repealed, why do officials act as if it is still in place?’
She wrote in favour of political parties, ‘[P]arties are critical to enabling individuals to join forces around common issues and pool their resources – intellectual, financial and organizational – to advance policies and candidates they believe will best serve their communities. In this moment of severe financial adversity, emaSwati need such collective community advocacy more than ever. It is time to start a dialogue on this issue and plot a way forward.’
Peterson is not alone in advocating for political parties in Swaziland. In 2013 the EU which is a major donor of aid to Swaziland told King Mswati he must allow political parties to operate in his kingdom as it was important that international principles of democracy were upheld in Swaziland.
In October 2012, the United Kingdom also called for political parties to be un-banned in Swaziland.
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