April 26, 2006

Democracy too expensive, says king

In a rare interview, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch King Mswati of Swaziland claimed that his country was not ready for political parties and criticised foreign governments for meddling in its internal affairs. Although Mswati lifted a royal decree banning political activity in the kingdom, the king said the nation's economy had to improve before parties might be permitted. "Most countries that adopted multi-party systems of government and succeeded to rule without internal strife had healthy economies, while the poor nations have continued to experience conflict," Mswati told The Times of Swaziland. "What we need to do right now as a country is to build our economy to a sustainable level where the introduction of multi parties can operate with a reasonable degree of success," he said.

Mswati – who turned 38 this week declaring his birthday a national holiday - criticised the governments of Britain and the Netherlands, and South Africa's trade unions, for interference in the internal affairs of the country he has ruled for 20 years. He expressed his shock when envoys from Britain and the Netherlands, presenting their diplomatic credentials to him at Lozitha Palace in April, dismissed the new national constitution which institutionalised the king's powers as inadequate. They reportedly called for political parties to operate within a democratic system of government. "How do they turn around to start criticising a document that they had the opportunity to scrutinize well before? They come from the school of majority rules, but here we have a case in Swaziland where the majority of people have said they do not want multi parties, and we are supposed to take a minority view over and above the majority?" the king asked. "The manner of approach [by the envoys] has the potential of inciting the people against the state that may lead to serious internal conflict," he added.

The king was also angered by a border blockade by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the Swaziland Solidarity Network, an umbrella body of pro-democracy groups. The protest was held on 12 April, the anniversary of a 1973 palace decree that banned multi-party democracy. "Blockades should never be allowed to happen. Despite this, the South Africa unions continued with the action, and this needs some serious attention by the South African government," said the king. (IRIN)

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