Thursday, September 18, 2008


Independent on Line, South Africa

18 September 2008

'Swazi making a mockery of democracy'

September 18 2008 at 01:28PM

By Sibongile Khumalo

Mbabane - Swaziland, Africa's last absolute monarchy, faced protests on Thursday on the eve of elections with anger growing in a country that remains deeply impoverished despite the king's lavish lifestyle.

Unions and banned political parties planned to blockade border posts ahead of parliamentary polls on Friday that those who have been pushing for change say will be meaningless.

"How these elections are called democracy is beyond me," said Mario Masuku, leader of People's United Democratic Movement (Pudemo), one of Swaziland's banned political parties.

"The country's political systems makes it a mockery of democracy in the region. In Swaziland there are no elections just selections of people who dance to the king's tune."

King Mswati III, who ascended the throne at age 18, keeps a strong traditional grip on power, with responsibility for appointing the prime minister, legislature and judiciary.

His country is one of Africa's poorest, with one of the world's highest HIV rates, and some have blamed the king's state-sponsored extravagant lifestyle for draining Swaziland's finances.

Two weeks ago, the Swazi government splashed out 100 million emalangeni (about R97-million) for a controversial double anniversary to celebrate independence from Britain and the king's birthday.

Dozens of brand new BMW luxury cars were specially bought to transport guests for the ceremony and an overseas shopping trip by some of the king's 13 wives before the event caused an outcry.

The trip drew unprecedented protests from student, political and civil groups who denounced the tour while more than two-thirds of the country's one million population live in poverty.

Friday's poll is the first to take place under a rewritten constitution, put into effect in 2006, which allows for freedom of association.

However, candidates can only stand for elections as individuals, not as part of political parties.

Opposition and civil society groups have been fighting for plural politics and the abolition of the monarchy, which they claim is dictatorial.

Swaziland United Democratic Front general secretary, Vincent Ncongwane, this week questioned the sending of observers to what he called a "sham" election.

Observers from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, Pan African Parliament (PAP), the Commonwealth and the African Union will monitor the vote.

"It puzzles the mind as to why they are endorsing this joke," he said.

Political parties in the landlocked southern African country were banned in 1973 by the late King Sobhuza after he dissolved the country's constitution, declaring it was unworkable as it promoted hatred among Swazis.

Swaziland is currently run on a homegrown political system called Tinkhundla with parliamentary elections held every five years after which the king appoints a new prime minister.

With an unemployment rate of 40 percent, the upcoming poll means nothing to most Swazis, said analyst Thembinkosi Dlamini.

"People want to see an end to the hunger gripping country, access social grants, health care. They have voted before but nothing has changed," said Dlamini.

"These elections do not embrace the virtues of modern democracy and the will of the people."

Mswati III, who rules the country side by side with his mother, has been named by Forbes magazine as one of the 15 richest royals in the world, with a fortune of 200 million dollars.

The king was the only African royal to make it into the prestigious list, published in August. According to Forbes, Mswati III's wealth comes from investments and real estate. - Sapa-AFP


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