From Swazi Media Commentary
Political parties are legal in Swaziland, but they are not allowed to compete for political office.
That is according to Chief Gija Dlamini, the chair of the Swazi Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
This is the same man who previously said that when the Swaziland Constitution talked about allowing freedom of association it meant freedom to join a soccer club, not to form a political party.
Chief Ginja is under attack in pro-democracy circles in Swaziland for being unsuitable for the position of chair of the EBC. Chief Gija is variously described as ‘an electrician’ or an ‘electrical engineer’, when the Swazi Constitution states that the EBC chair ought to be a senior judge.
Chief Gija’s latest remarks were reported in the Times Sunday yesterday (18 May 2008). The newspaper reported that a distinguished political expert from the United States (with senior experience in states of the former Soviet Union) had met this week with the EBC and concluded ‘that they did not understand how political parties operate’.
The Times Sunday reported that Dr Robert Herman, Director of Programs at Freedom House, ‘had a tough time, trying to solicit their views on what they thought of democracy, human rights and elections’.
The Times Sunday reported, ‘During a press briefing on Friday Dr Herman explained that members of the EBC told him that political parties were not good for Swaziland because they caused wars and pointed to the situation in Kenya as a perfect example.’
The report continued, ‘Dr Herman said having spoken to a number of different spectrum of society in Swaziland, he came to the considered view that Swaziland was not a democracy and that a lot needed to be done in that regard.
‘He said that after learning that this country was to go to the polls later this year, he met the EBC and when he spoke to them he got the impression that they did not understand how political parties operate.’
The Times Sunday also reported, ‘Gija said he assured Dr Herman that political parties do exist in Swaziland, but it’s that they cannot compete for political office.’
The issue of the legality or otherwise of political parties in Swaziland has been receiving a lot of attention in the newspapers recently.
In the same edition of the Times Sunday (18 May 2008) King Mswati III’s Private Secretary Sam Mkhombe is quoting saying that political parties are allowed in Swaziland.
‘He challenged all those who say political parties are banned to show him the piece of legislation which prohibits political parties to operate in the country,’ the newspaper said.
One might add to this challenge a further challenge to Chief Gija to prove that if political parties are allowed to exist in Swaziland what is it that prevents them from standing in the election?
Mkhombe’s assertion that political parties are allowed in Swaziland follows a similar statement reported in the Swazi Observer (5 May 2008) from the kingdom’s Attorney-General (AG) Majahenkaba Dlamini to the effect that the constitution allows political parties.
The Observer reported that his audience of human rights activists greeted the AG’s remark with disbelief.
As well they might. Vusi Sibisi, writing in the Times Sunday (18 May 2008) makes a very valid practical point that the Swazi government has not put in place the legal framework that allows political parties to be registered and to operate.
I doubt that political parties would be allowed to meet to discuss the election. Here’s a challenge of my own. Why doesn’t a group in Swaziland call itself a political party and then announce that it is to hold a public meeting at which it will announce its candidates for the forthcoming election and also outline its manifesto for the coming elections.
Let’s see how far they get in Swaziland’s unique democracy.
There was another very sinister story in the Times Sunday (19 May 2008) regarding the elections. It is reported that the King’s advisory council, Liqoqo, summoned the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Prince David to them to explain why the EBC thought it had the right to decide on the date of the election when this was the preserve of the king.
Has nobody at Liqoqo read the constitution?……
PARTIES BANNED FROM SWAZI ELECTION
First published 19 May 2008