40 years without parties in Swaziland
SADC must act to end sham democracy
April 12th marked 40 years since King Sobhuza II abrogated Swaziland’s independence constitution and created an absolute monarchy but Swazis have no reason to celebrate – as they continue to struggle with a devastating combination of political, economic, judicial and social crises.
With undemocratic elections – or ‘selections’ as they are more commonly referred to – due in August, 21 Swazi civil society organisations have called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to bring an end to Swaziland’s sham democracy by ensuring the Swazis’ civil and political rights are respected.
In particular, the Swazi organisations – comprising civil society, faith-based, legal, women’s and youth groups as well as trade unions – are urging SADC to ensure that political parties are allowed to operate freely and participate in elections for the first time in four decades.
“Out of SADC’s 280 million citizens, only the 1 million in Swaziland are denied the right to use political parties as vehicles for forming a government of their choice,” said the groups in a joint letter to Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete in his role as Chairperson of the Troika Organ on Politics, Defense and Security, which called for crisis in Swaziland to be placed on the agenda of the next SADC Heads of State Summit in Malawi.
Swaziland’s 2005 Constitution does incorporate respect for fundamental human rights, including the freedom of association and assembly. However, these rights continue to be violated.
In the case of political parties, no legislation has been passed to enable them to register, operate freely and participate in elections. In addition, section 79 of the constitution vitiates the freedoms guaranteed earlier in the document by limiting election and appointment to political office to individuals.
“The exclusion of political parties in this manner and government's insistence on ‘individual merit’ as the sole basis for eligibility for political office is in violation of a number of regional and international instruments on human rights and democracy which Swaziland is a party to, particularly the 2004 SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections,” said the joint letter.
“The violation of these rights has also been exacerbated by the prevailing political climate in which the activities of pro-democracy civic groups and political parties are suppressed through interference and sometimes violent disruption.”
With elections scheduled for August, civil society groups are concerned that political parties will once again be excluded from the process unless SADC intervenes and have urged the regional body to:
- Assist the Swazi government to urgently put in place enabling legislation for the unequivocal unbanning, recognition, registration and operationalization of political parties to enable them to actively participate in elections;
- Assist the Swazi government to hold an all-inclusive national dialogue aimed at normalising the political environment in the country; and
- Mediate to resolve the political impasse in the country and ensure the restoration of a multi-party democratic dispensation that co-exists in harmony with the institution of the monarchy.
The civil society groups also highlighted that Swaziland’s lack of genuine democracy and the on-going absence of political parties has already been the subject of a resolution by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in 2012, which called on the Swazi government to “respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly” and urging it “to take all necessary measures to ensure the conduct or free, fair and credible elections in 2013.”
At the current 53rd session of the ACHRP, a number of organisations – including the African Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Studies, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), Human Rights Association of Swaziland and Lawyers for Human Rights – have highlighted the lack of progress in Swaziland and called for an end to the effective ban on political parties.
The civil society groups that signed the joint letter to President Kikwete included Constituent Assembly of Civil Society (CA); Council of Swaziland Churches (CSC); Federation of the Swazi Business Community (FESBC); Foundation for Socio-economic Justice (FSEJ); Legal Assistance Centre (LAC); Lawyers for Human Right Swaziland (LHR(S); Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS); Law Society of Swaziland (LSS); Media Institute of Southern Africa (MJSA)- Swaziland; Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF); Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL); Swaziland Rural Women Association (SRWA); Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO); Swaziland Youth Empowerment Organization (Luvatsi); Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC); Swaziland Young Women's Network (SYWON); Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT); Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA); Women for Women; Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA); Swaziland Youth in Action (SYA)