In a new report, UK-based think tank, Chatham House, is urging Swazis to reform their absolute monarchy from within. “The political process is not totally undemocratic,” the report says.
One of the authors of the report, Alex Vines, told IOL News that he disagreed with banned opposition party PUDEMO’s boycott of Swaziland’s elections. “I think we will see a lot of people elected that have a reform agenda. That could mean that the king has to consider bringing some of them into government as ministers,” Vines further told the Southern African Institute of International Affairs on Monday.
But Vines’ comment hints at the problem of trying to reform the system in Swaziland: that Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, holds all the keys – regardless of a thin veneer of democracy.
Because he personally appoints the government, most of the senate, and several members of parliament (and has to approve the rest, who are vetted by Mswati-appointed chiefs). Because he can veto any law that he doesn’t like. And because elections have “increasingly become arenas for competition over patronage and not policy,” as the African policy research institute, Institute for Security Studies, put it.
Reforms of the system from within have been attempted already, without much success. Swaziland’s 2006 constitution process, that was supported by the Commonwealth who hailed it as a significant achievement at the time, is an example of this. The constitution has not been able to check the rule of Mswati and his appointed government, primarily because he managed to hijack the process.
Even the report seemingly concedes this point. “Power is exercised almost exclusively by the royal court, and traditional authority has undermined attempts at reform … The parliamentary elections on 20 September 2013 are unlikely to have much tangible impact in the short term.”
There have, perhaps understandably, been several strongly-worded statements from organisations in Swaziland, along the lines of that Vines and Chatham House “dismisses the democracy movement” and follows an “imperialist” agenda. Perhaps also because of the hint of a neo-liberal agenda in the report claiming that Swaziland’s neighbours “have benefited from the adoption of liberal economic policies,” a rather questionable claim.
“The [Chatham House] report on Swaziland is chronically deficient. It places all possibilities for change on the worsening economic situation, and the unsustainable route being followed by the Royal Elite,” says the Swaziland Democracy Campaign. “It argues that it will be impending financial ruin and not peoples’ power that will eventually bring King Mswati to his senses.”
“Their only purpose is to manipulate the situation in favour of modern day imperial interests,” said The Communist Party of Swaziland’s General Secretary, Kenneth Kunene. “If Chatham House was really worried about democracy in Swaziland, why doesn’t it come out in support of the pro-democracy movement. Not even the IMF thinks that the crisis has compelled to bring Mswati any nearer to giving up power”.
And even if Chatham House is not being intentionally neo-imperialist in its recommendations, they are at the very least being “neutral”. And in countries such as Swaziland, neutrality is in effect siding with the status quo of Mswati’s absolute rule.
By Peter Kenworthy, Africa Contact
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