June 14, 2005

Swaziland cements royal power with constitution

Swaziland's parliament has approved a new constitution which upholds a ban on political parties and cements the power of sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. The palace has announced that the new constitution would help transform impoverished Swaziland into a "better country". Unions and activists dismissed it as a sham that failed to protect human rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law. "Many questions remain about the real meaning of this now purportedly supreme law and its implications for the Swazi people," said the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, an umbrella group of legal, business and human rights groups.
The constitution entrenches a 1973 decree by King Mswati's father giving the monarch power to govern Swaziland. The constitution allows freedom of speech, assembly and religion, but the king has a veto right on anything he deems against the public interest. “This document will be a torch that will light up the path to transform Swaziland to a better country," Mswati's brother, Justice and Constitutional Minister Prince David Dlamini, claimed. Another of the king's brothers, Prince Mangaliso Dlamini, said a consultation process on the new constition showed deeply traditional Swazis did not want a multi-party system. Prince David has defended the constitution as the beginning of a generations-long process of political transformation.
The Swazi opposition made it clear it would not accept the royal constitution. The adoption of this document was seen as an attempt to defuse the long-standing constitutional conflict in the country. However, the constitutional crisis would only be "further exacerbated" by its enactment, protesters said. International pro-democracy groups today joined the Swazi opposition in rejecting the constitution. (AP)

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