From Swazi Media Commentary
As Swaziland approaches election time the kingdom is less stable than people generally recognise.
Sooner rather than later poor ‘peasants’ in rural areas who are assumed to be loyal to the present regime of King Mswati III will show their dissatisfaction with their present situation .
These are the views of Richard Cornwell, a senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies, published on the website of South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper on Tuesday (12 February 2008).
Under the headline The Swazi quagmire, he writes that the elections due in Swaziland later this year have drawn little attention and it is unlikely that this will change as polling day approaches.
Nevertheless, Cornwell says there are structural tensions within the kingdom’s social and economic fabric which, sooner or later, will test the political framework at the national and local levels.
He writes, ‘In 1973, King Sobhuza II suspended the country’s constitution after a minor parliamentary challenge to the absolute authority of the monarchy. Almost 30 years passed before his son, King Mswati III, allowed the formation of a committee to examine the possibility of opening the political space to greater public participation. In the meantime, a neo-traditional system of government dominated a parliament chosen largely through a system of individual and localised elections supervised by traditional authorities.
‘The principal beneficiaries of this modified absolutism, politically and materially, were the extensive royal family, their courtiers and the rural chiefs, a situation which prompted increasing opposition from civil society and student and trade union activists, supported by foreign allies.’
Cornwell goes on to remind us that the Swaziland Constitution which came into force in 2006 does not allow for political parties in the kingdom.
There are attempts in Swaziland to form some kind of political groups ahead of the election which are expected sometime in October or November (a date has yet to be set).
At a meeting held on 2 February 2008, civic society organisations met to work towards a united front by April, when they will adopt a name and organisational rules. This will be the first time a common position has been attempted since the collapse of the Swaziland Democratic Alliance in 2003.
Cornwell goes on to say,
‘It would be premature to expect too much from the democratic push, however. The Swaziland trade union movement, which led the earlier drive for constitutional rule, is badly fractured.
‘In any event, although the conspicuous consumption of the Swazi royal house has created a broader popular unease in the kingdom of late, there is little evidence to suggest that the democrats’ followers are as yet as numerous as they claim. It seems more probable that such progress as can be made in curbing the royal prerogative and moving towards more accountable and efficient government will depend for now on developments within the ranks of the “loyal reformists”.
‘Even they will have their work cut out, however, for there are powerful entrenched forces determined to thwart any dilution of neo-traditional authority.
‘Yet unless Swaziland’s government can break free of the inertia born of its scelerotic political condition, the problems of economic reform, particularly in a rural sector unable to feed its own people, and in a macro-economic environment both financially and fiscally hostile, there can be no serious attempt to address the dangerous problems of increasing impoverishment among the majority.
‘Sooner rather than later, this could indeed lead to an unprecedented destabilising response from a peasantry whose loyalty to the present system is so blithely assumed.’
First published 14 February 2008