September 22, 2004

Swazis discuss new Constitution

For the first time in two years, King Mswati summoned the nation to a "People's Parliament" to allow Swazis to express their views on a draft constitution. "Nobody must leave this place without contributing," Mswati told about 10.000 people, almost all men, assembled in an immense royal cattle kraal. The king departed before hearing submissions, which will continue throughout the week.
Before Mswati spoke, Prince David Dlamini, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, gave a preview of the type of submissions likely to ensue in the "People's Parliament" by listing for the king various comments made by Swazis before his commission. Many of these had no bearing on constitutionalism: farmers complained of stock theft; expatriate workers wanted government to help secure wages they said they had not received; government stipends for the elderly should be increased; more government offices should be opened in rural areas; and Swazi chiefs should be given government salaries.
The first public talks on the new Constitution were criticised by pro-democracy groups for not curbing the king's powers. According to them, the document which has been in the making since 1996 rather strengthened the King's hold on the poor southern African nation. Speaking at the traditional meeting place at the cattle byre at the royal palace in Ludzidzini, about 20km south of the capital, some speakers called for a "more representative" Constitution.
King Mswati, a polygamist with 12 wives is in general also being criticised for poverty grinding the population of 1,8 million people. In the past, senior members of the royal family have censored submissions presented to Mswati at the royal kraal and viewpoints calling for democratic reform or challenging royal rule were not presented in summation. Consequently, political parties, banned by royal decree, unions and human rights groups have generally stayed away. (Mail and Guardian online / IRIN)

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