March 24, 2005

Court upholds ban on opposition parties

Swaziland's High Court has upheld a ban on opposition political parties dealing a severe blow to pro-democracy groups in the tiny landlocked country. "Legally, [political parties] cannot be given the recognition by the court that they require to have their matters adjudicated," the court said in a ruling late. The court ruled in a case brought by Swaziland's two largest political organisations, the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), which together with labour unions sought to challenge a new royal-approved draft constitution. The pro-democracy groups argued the constitutional process was illegal as it had gone against a 2002 decision by the Court of Appeal that ruled King Mswati III had no legal basis to decree laws.
The five justices cited a 1973 State of Emergency decree imposed by Mswati's father, King Sobhuza, that gave absolute power to the monarchy and banned organised political opposition to royal rule. "It remains the duty and function of the court to uphold and apply the laws of the land, and especially so when constitutional issues are decided," the court ruled. The proposed new constitution is expected to keep power firmly in Mswati's hands, and continue the ban on political parties. The trade union movement also suffered a fresh setback when the court rejected the bid by the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and the Swaziland Federation of Labour to block parliament from debating the new national constitution, saying they had no legal basis or mandate from their members to pursue political issues. "Neither of the two [labour federations] have shown their entitlement to either participate in the making or drafting of a new constitution, nor to impede parliament from debating the draft bill," said High Court acting Chief Justice Jacobus Annandale. An SFTU official has announced that they would pursue their case in the Court of Appeal. (IRIN)

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