18 October 2012

Swaziland: Top Law Officer Defies Constitution

Photo: UN Photo/Marco Castro
King Mswati III of Swaziland.

Swaziland's Attorney-General Majahenkhaba Dlamini has said that the Government decided not to follow the constitution when it succeeded in having a no-confidence vote against it overturned.

Dlamini who supports the government action said that although the preamble to the Swazi constitution states, 'Whereas all the branches of government are the Guardians of the Constitution, it is necessary that the courts be the ultimate Interpreters of the Constitution,' the government decided not to go to court but simply to demand a re-run of the vote.

He told the Times of Swaziland newspaper, 'Government decided not to go to court, but even this route to rescind the vote is valid. Government could have gone to court but decided against it.'

Politics in Swaziland has been in turmoil for the past two weeks since the House of Assembly passed a vote-of no confidence in the government by a majority greater than three-fifths. According to the constitution, when this happens the government must resign within three days. Failing this the constitution obliges the king to sack the government.

The government neither resigned, nor did King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, uphold the constitution.

Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who was not elected to parliament but personally appointed to his position by King Mswati, refused to recognise the no-confidence vote. He claimed that correct procedures had not been followed before the vote.

On Monday (15 October 2012), the government forced a rerun and the no-confidence vote was overturned. This time only 32 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly were present. No vote was counted, so it is impossible to know how many supported the motion.

It has emerged that some members of the house who were opposed to overturning the vote were denied the chance to make submissions on Monday and staged a walkout.

The Government has been under severe criticism for forcing through the vote with lawyers in the kingdom claiming that it had no constitutional right to do so. They say only the courts can interpret the constitution, not the government.

When questioned on this point the AG recognised that the constitution made this clear in its preamble. 'Government could have gone to court but decided against it,' he told the Times. He said the government relied on parliamentary standing orders.

He attacked the lawyers who opposed the government action. 'They don't know what they're talking about. All I'm saying is that some of these lawyers know nothing. I don't know where they got the notion that you can't rescind a motion.'

He went on: 'The rescinding is allowed by standing orders.'

Advocate Lucas Maziya said it was unheard of that parliament standing orders could overrule the constitution. Another lawyer, Titus Mlangeni, said that once a vote of no-confidence had been passed in the house it could not be reversed.

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