February 27, 2006

Ban on political parties to be challenged

The head of Swaziland's oldest political party has pledged to officially register his organisation, testing whether Swaziland's new constitution has really marked the end of decades of a royal decree prohibiting political opposition. At a meeting of the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), Obed Dlamini, NNLC president and Swaziland's prime minister from 1989 to 1993, offered veiled criticism of King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. "We want the person who is in authority to be told squarely the truth. There are those who always salute him, and they are deceiving him," Dlamini said of the Swazi king, perpetuating a custom of blaming palace advisors for failures of the monarchy.

Analysts and political parties have complained that the new constitution, formulated by the Constitutional Review Commission headed by King Mswati's brother, Prince Mangaliso Dlamini, remained vague on the key issue of legalising political parties. Before, Prince Dlamini had said that the time was not right for the return of political parties, and that only individuals rather than political party representatives could run for parliament. Labour leaders and members of human rights organisations who attended the party meeting urged the NNLC to register itself. "We cannot accept the fiction of being told that political parties are free to operate with such a [royal decree] in place. To allow the myth that individual merit is the only path to parliament, in a multi-party era, is to deny the existence of parties," said Vincent Ncongwane, secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Labour. The final decision on the constitution's position on political parties can, according to analysts, only be made by the courts. (Rts)


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