4 November 2008
Swaziland should look again at its constitution, this time ensuring that there is full consultation with the people, civic society and political organisations.
This s a major recommendation from the Commonwealth Expert Team (CET) members that were official observers of the elections in Swaziland in September.
The CET said that the elections were not entirely credible because the constitution banned political parties and members of parliament had few real powers.
In its report on the election, just published, the CET says revisiting the constitution is necessary to ‘ensure that Swaziland’s commitment to political pluralism is unequivocal’.
It says that review of the constitution ‘should be carried out through a process of full consultation with Swazi political organisations and civil society (possibly with the support of constitutional experts).’
The CET went on to say that the election was not credible, even though a new constitution has been introduced in Swaziland since the last election in 2003.
The CET states, ‘Swaziland has now adopted a new Constitution, which affords the nation an opportunity to make democratic progress. The real challenge is to gain the confidence of the democratic dispensation with an entrenched bill of rights, as is expected of Swaziland in accordance with Commonwealth principles and declarations.’
It added, ‘We also noted our serious concerns on the inherent inconsistencies and contradictions, particularly as they relate to the separation of powers (or lack thereof) and the rule of law. We also expressed our deep concern for the inconsistency and contradictions as they relate to the interpretation of the fundamental right of freedom of association and assembly, where political parties are denied formal recognition, so that they do not have the right to carry out activities which political parties would normally conduct in a multi-party democracy.
‘We believe that the Monarchy and a multi-party democracy are not mutually exclusive, and that a mechanism should be found to insulate the Monarchy from the turbulence of politics.
It goes on, ‘In the modern world, which is complex and constantly evolving, a multi-party democratic system has proved to be the best one for accommodating diversity and well-treasured norms in society. Practical experience has shown that institutions which have been marginalised have suffered. Confidence in the institutional framework to promote a vibrant electorate is vital, as a conscientious, well informed electorate is critical in this day and age. In any country the prevailing political environment influences all aspects of life including social and economic conditions for its citizens. One of the major areas it affects is the constitutional and legislative framework governing electoral processes.’
According to a report from the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation, the Swazi government has declined to comment on the report until it has had a chance to study it fully.
This is a standard response from the Swazi ruling elite to any criticism it receives from the international community. In practice, the government never responds (think of all those criticisms earlier this year and last about the poor governance in Swaziland).
The government thinks it can ignore these findings. It can’t. It is up to democrats to keep pushing the point that Swaziland’s ‘unique’ democracy stands condemned and it must change.
To read the full report, click here.