March 5, 2004

SWAZILAND: Opening of Parliament indefinitely postponed

Swaziland's banned political opposition parties have slammed the indefinite postponement of the opening of parliament, saying it showed that the kingdom's highest democratically elected body had no real power. "This 'postponement' is actually a suspension of the legislative branch of government. Parliament used to be a rubber stamp for palace policy, but now it has ceased to exist," an official of the People's Democratic Movement said. "This matter is disturbing, because the people elected MPs to be their only voice on the national level," said Phineas Magagula, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT). The teachers' union is a member of the Swaziland Democratic Alliance, an umbrella organisation for labour and human rights groups, and political parties, which are banned by royal decree. The alliance has also condemned the postponement, announced earlier this week.

The authorities gave no reason for not opening parliament as expected. MPs were elected from the kingdom's 55 constituencies last October for a five-year term that was to have begun last month. Political observers allege the delay is the result of palace displeasure with the election of Lobamba MP Marwick Khumalo as the House Speaker. Khumalo is a founding member of a cultural organisation called Sive Siyinqaba, which, by its members' own admission, is a thinly disguised political party. Some MPs, who also objected to Khumalo's election, sought King Mswati's intervention. A special committee of royalty and palace advisors then reportedly asked Khumalo to resign. The committee was headed by the governor of Ludzidzini royal village, Jim Gama, the country's top traditional leader. But Khumalo refused to resign.

Governing structures were to have been delineated in a new constitution, which should have been completed in 1998 and ratified last year by King Mswati, as promised. But the Constitution Drafting Committee, headed by Mswati's brother, Prince David, said ratification was indefinitely on hold. The palace-authored draft constitution confirmed King Mswati as the ultimate governing authority, with power over parliament, which he could suspend at will, and continued the ban on political opposition to royal rule. Parliament normally opens in February, when the first order of business is the passage of the national budget. The postponement is putting pressure on government services, which are rapidly running out of funds and need new allocations. (IRIN)

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