King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland/ Eswatini, chose his new Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini in violation of the kingdom’s Constitution.
Section 67 of the Constitution says the King must appoint the PM ‘from among members of the House [of Assembly]’ but Dlamini is not a member. He was not elected by the people. The King also appoints ten members of the House of Assembly but did not give Dlamini a place.
The appointment is a clear breach of the Constitution and it highlights how the document that came into effect in 2006 is generally meaningless. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and this is allowed for in S65(4) of the Constitution which states, ‘Where the King is required by the Constitution to exercise any function after consultation with any person or authority, the King may or may not exercise that function following the consultation.’
Put in simple language, ‘The King is permitted to do what he likes.’
King Mswati has a firm grip on power in his kingdom. At the election on 21 September 2018 his subjects were only allowed to select 59 members of the House of Assembly, the King appointed a further 10. Political parties were banned from taking part.
None of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the House elects 10 and the King appoints 20. After the election the King appointed six members of his own family to the House of Assembly and eight to the Senate.
The King also chooses the PM, government ministers and top civil servants and judges.
Lisa Peterson, the United States Ambassador to Swaziland, criticised the King for not following the constitution when making appointments after the election. In an article that appeared in both of Swaziland’s two national daily newspapers she wrote, ‘I am disappointed, disheartened and disturbed that parliamentary appointments made by the Palace disregard explicit provisions of the country’s Constitution.
‘The terms are quite simple: among the members of the House of Assembly appointed by the King, at least half shall be women: among the 20 for the Senate, at least eight shall be women. Out of 10 appointees to the House, only three were women. In the Senate, only seven women were appointed. These shortfalls show that gender equity is not a priority for the country’s most senior officials, which means that it will not be a priority for many others in Eswatini’s male-dominated leadership.’
She warned failure to stick by the Constitution ‘will likely’ affect the amount of development aid Swaziland receives in future from the US.
She wrote, ‘This failure to abide by the terms of the Constitution has an impact not only on women’s economic, political and social participation, but on all aspects of the rule of law in this country. If senior leaders do not need to follow the rules laid out and agreed to, why should anyone else in the country have to abide by any rules? Failure to uphold the rule of law has ramifications far beyond Parliament.’
‘As Eswatini faces a critical fiscal crisis, foreign investment will be an important component of a multifaceted economic recovery and growth strategy. Foreign investors are attracted to or deterred by a range of factors, but rule of law is a major consideration. If the Constitution itself is treated as an optional guide or a collection of recommendations, this provides little comfort to investors who seek assurance that contractual matters will be addressed transparently in accordance with the law.
‘Beyond the potential impact on foreign direct investment, violation of the basic framework of governance will likely also have an impact on prospective foreign assistance mechanisms from the United States.’