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New constitution still not ready

[Swaziland] King Mswati III.
The draft constitution gives King Mswati absolute power (UN DPI)

One year after a long-delayed draft constitution was finally presented to King Mswati, the country is no closer to adopting the new document and ending its rule-of-law crisis.

"More consultations will be made with the Swazi people on the draft constitution," announced Prince David Dlamini, King Mswati's brother, who as head of the Constitutional Drafting Committee unveiled what was to have been the final document a year ago this week.

Speaking with the press, Dlamini said further public consultations, which began in 1996 to allow Swazis to express their views about governance, would be held this weekend in the southern Shiselweni and eastern Lubombo regions.

King Mswati originally commissioned another of his brothers, Prince Mangaliso Dlamini, to collect views from Swazis on the type of constitution they wanted, and deliver a draft in 1998. Mswati had been under pressure from the international community to make political reforms in sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy.

Political opposition parties, which were banned by Mswati's father and will remain illegal under the new draft constitution, cited a lack of political will toward reform as the reason for the drawn-out drafting exercise.

"The constitutional process was illegitimate from the start, because it was not people-driven, but was imposed from on high. Now it is in its seventh year," Jan Sithole, secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and an executive with the Swaziland Democratic Alliance, an umbrella body of labour and human rights groups, told IRIN.

Responding to a statement made by British High Commissioner to Swaziland David Reader last week, that the constitutional process must accelerate, King Mswati, speaking through his brother Prince Sihlangusemphi, said: "I have no doubt that some of your fellow European community members are not so patient with regard to the time Britain will take to complete your national referendum on the European constitution."

Mswati refuted recent criticism of Swaziland's human rights record made by Amnesty International and other international human rights organisations. "Granted, we might have been practicing these values in our own unique way, but the fact remains that we have always cherished them," the king said.

One attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland told IRIN, "This is consistent with government's response whenever someone points out that Swaziland isn't a democracy. They say that Swaziland has a 'unique' democracy."

As evidence of Swaziland's democratic nature, Mswati cited the contributions of ordinary Swazis to the draft constitution in his statement delivered by Prince Sihlangusemphi.

However, Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland noted in its analysis of Prince Mangaliso Dlamini's report on public submissions to the constitution-making process that no data was offered on how many Swazis contributed, what was said, or what public submissions were incorporated into the draft constitution.

Swaziland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has not functioned since November 2002 when its seven judges resigned in protest over the government's refusal to obey a ruling against Mswati's power to rule by decree, precipitating a rule-of-law crisis.

Mswati reportedly intends to decree into law the new constitution, which bans organised political opposition. All human rights guarantees carried in the draft constitution could be suspended if deemed necessary by the monarch.

The British high commissioner said Swaziland would reap "trade, investment and success" if it improved its governance record. "There comes a time when talking stops and action is needed. It seems that time is now."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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