March 11, 2004

Speaker of Parliament told to resign

King Mswati III of Swaziland used his powers as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch to force the resignation of the speaker of parliament. "I was called to the royal residence, and formally told that the king had instructed that I should resign," dismissed speaker Marwick Khumalo told parliamentarians at a special session. "The deputy speaker will take over and parliament will adjourn indefinitely until we are told what will happen next," he added. The palace gave no reasons for Mswati's objection to Khumalo, who was elected speaker by MPs in November. It is usually left to cabinet ministers appointed by Mswati to explain royal fiats, but none were available for comment.

Swaziland's labour federations and the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, an umbrella body of outlawed political groups and human rights organisations, have called for mass action to protest what they described as palace efforts to undermine an elected legislature. "We have received the speaker's resignation with shock, disgust and outrage. We will call a mass meeting soon," said coalition founder Musa Hlope, a former director of the Swaziland Federation of Employers. "The king undermined the independence of the courts. Now he has gutted the independence of parliament," Jan Sithole, secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, remarked.

Khumalo's election as house speaker reportedly upset royalist MPs, but they were unable to engineer his removal and sought the intervention of Mswati. The king appointed 10 legislators to be seated alongside 55 MPs elected from local constituencies in last October's parliamentary elections. "The little freedom we enjoy, and the right to independently elect people of our own choice, is being eroded," Khumalo told parliament. "I am less worried about losing the position of speaker of the house than I am worried about the institution itself. I am concerned about the future of this county, and its dented political image in the region and beyond." He insisted he had done nothing to warrant his removal, but noted that his work as chairman of parliamentary investigative bodies had irked the palace. Khumalo chaired the parliamentary select committee last year that recommended against the purchase of a US $64 million private jet for Mswati, a decision endorsed by parliament. "In some quarters, the traces of bitterness are so glaring to this day. Even now it is feared [by royalists] that I will overwhelm the new parliament with my 'unpopular' political influence," Khumalo told MPs in his resignation speech. (IRIN)


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