Democracy advocates in Swaziland should put forward policies that would attract people to support political parties, the US Ambassador to the kingdom said.
Explaining why political parties were needed was not enough, Lisa Peterson told a meeting on multiparty democracy, good governance and human rights at the Happy Valley Hotel, Ezulwini, on Saturday (10 March 2018).
Peterson said a poll conducted in 2015 by Afrobarometer had suggested about 36 percent of those questioned supported political parties in Swaziland.
King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and senior ministers. Advocates for democracy continue to be arrested under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
Peterson said many people in Swaziland did not support political parties, 'in part because they lack experience with what parties can accomplish and how advocacy can succeed.
'In addition to the various efforts the parties have underway, they need to be paying particular attention to this part of the equation. Because if a person living in a small village does not understand how a party can help him approach local leaders on an issue such as youth unemployment, the answer to that poll question is going to continue to go against the multiparty option.
'You also should not fall into the trap of thinking that simply explaining to people why parties are important, or holding a march to rally public opinion, will move the needle more in your direction.
'People need to experience policy advocacy in order to appreciate the advantages of a coalition. Otherwise, they will carry on doing things the way they always have, perhaps believing that no action can really make a difference.
'People have a tendency to want to stay with something they know, even if it's not working well, because they fear that a change will bring something worse. This is as true in the United States as it is here. But if you show them how advocacy is done, if you highlight for them their civic potential, you will have made an incredible investment in the country's future. And through this investment, attitudes toward the multiparty question are sure to improve.'
Swaziland faces an election in 2018. Swaziland's most recent election in 2013 was considered 'not free and fair' by a number of international organisations, including the Commonwealth Observer Mission and African Union which called separately for a review of the kingdom's constitution to allow political parties to compete.
In 2008, the European Union declined an invitation to observe the honesty of the Swaziland elections because of 'shortcomings' in the kingdom's democracy.
In 2013, the EU which is a major donor of aid to Swaziland told King Mswati he must allow political parties to operate in his kingdom as it was important that international principles of democracy were upheld in Swaziland.
In October 2012, the United Kingdom also called for political parties to be un-banned in Swaziland.
Three political parties have already announced their intention to seek a court ruling to un-ban parties ahead of the next election. They are the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO); the Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA) and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) have joined forces to take the government to court.