Politics of Swaziland

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politics and government of

Swaziland is an absolute monarchy with constitutional provisions and Swazi law and Custom.[1][2] The head of state is the king or Ngwenyama (lit. Lion), currently King Mswati III, who ascended to the throne in 1986 after the death of his father King Sobhuza II in 1982 and a period of regency. According to the constitution of Swaziland, the King and Ingwenyama is a symbol of unity and the eternity of the Swazi nation.[3] By tradition, the king reigns along with his mother or a ritual substitute, the Ndlovukati (lit. She-Elephant). The former was viewed as the administrative head of state and the latter as a spiritual and national head of state, with real power counterbalancing that of the king, but during the long reign of Sobhuza II the role of the Ndlovukati became more symbolic. The king appoints the prime minister from the legislature and also appoints a minority of legislators to both chambers of Libandla (parliament), with help from an advisory council. The king is allowed by the constitution to appoint some members to parliament for special interests. These special interests are citizens who might have been left out by the electorate during the course of elections or did not enter as candidates. This is done to balance views in parliament. Special interests could be people of gender, race, disability, business community, civic society, scholars, chiefs and so on. The Senate consists of 30 members, of which some are appointed by the king on recommendation of the advisory council and others elected by the lower house. The House of Assembly has 65 seats, 55 of which are occupied by elected representatives from the 55 constituencies around the country, 10 appointed by the king on recommendation of the advisory council and the attorney general is the ex-officio member. Elections are held every five years.


According to the Swazi law and custom, the monarch holds supreme executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The Ngwenyama (lion) is a hereditary leader, rules the country, with the assistance of a council of ministers and a national legislature. The Ndlovukati (The mother of the king) is in charge of national rituals, and acts as regent if her counterpart Ngwenyama dies and the heir has not performed royal adulthood rituals or is indisposed. If the king's mother is no longer living, one of the king's wives may act as Ndlovukati. In Sobhuza II's case, his grandmother the Ndlovukati Labotsibeni Mdluli was regent from his choice as infant heir in 1899 following the death of his father Bhunu until his accession to full authority in 1922, when his mother Lomawa Ndwandwe became the ndlovukati. Later in his long reign three other women became senior queen, when an ndlovukati died, another was appointed from among his senior wives.

The king and the queen mother rule together in theory, and did so in practice up until the reign of Sobhuza II. Before colonization the senior queen acted as a check and counterweight to the king's power, both through her direct control of some military forces and her control of rainmaking medicines and rites and of key aspects of the Ncwala national ritual that annually binds the fate of the king and the nation together. British policy and the strength of Sobhuza II's personality shifted power decisively toward the king and away from the senior queen during his long reign.

During a period of intense succession struggles following the death of Sobhuza II, the Ndlovukati was assisted by Prince Sozisa Dlamini, the holder of a novel office, the Authorised Person, in-Libandla, and then was deposed and the mother of the heir, now King Mswati III was made Ndlovukati prior to his full accession. Subsequently the constitution was revised to provide that where the Regent and the Authorised Person are not in agreement on any matter, the matter shall be referred to Bantfwabenkhosi (princes) and chiefs.

The King, according to the new constitution, is also Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces and Commissioner of Police. He and the Queen Mother have legal immunity.

Male succession

Succession is chosen in relation to the status of the potential king's mother. Ndlovukazi is chosen by the Royal Council after the King's death, she will be from an unrelated family. Within the aristocracy, the first wife is never the main wife a second wife who has a higher pedigree will take precedence. The Royal family line, the Dlamini's, never intermarry; the King is always a Dlamini, the Queen Mother is never a Dlamini. The king is not followed by blood brothers. He is "Nkosi Dlamini" and is expected to unify his position by choosing wives from all sectors of the community. The balance of power lies between the King and the Queen Mother. The Royal Council plays a key role in the selection of the successor to the throne. Much of this tradition remains secret (or undetermined) but it is rumoured that the new king must be single, and is usually a minor. His wives are important.


A Swazi king's first two wives are chosen for him by the national councillors. These two have special functions in rituals and their sons can never claim kingship. The first wife must be a member of the Matsebula clan, the second of the Motsa clan. According to tradition, he can only marry his fiancées after they have fallen pregnant, proving they can bear heirs. Until then, they are Liphovela.

King Mswati III is often criticized for living so lavishly in a nation that is afflicted by one of the world's highest HIV infection rates. His fleet of luxury cars, and the millions spent towards refurbishing his numerous wives' luxury mansions, are at odds with the approximately 34 percent of the nation that stand unemployed, nearly 70 percent of which live on less than a dollar a day, and with around 35 percent of adults who suffer from HIV.

Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
King Mswati III 25 April 1986
Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini 17 September 2013

In general practice, however, the monarch's power is delegated through a dualistic system: modern and, statutory bodies, like the cabinet, and less formal traditional government structures. At present, parliament consists of an 82-seat House of Assembly (55 members are elected through popular vote; the Attorney General as an ex-officio member; 10 are appointed by the king and four women elected from each one of the administrative regions) and 30-seat Senate (10 members are appointed by the House of Assembly, and 20 are appointed by the king, whom at least the half must be women). The king must approve legislation passed by parliament before it becomes law. The prime minister, who is head of government is appointed by the king from among the members of the House on recommendations of the King's Advisory Council and the cabinet, which is recommended by the prime minister and approved by the king, exercises executive authority.

Head of government

The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the King after the election of a new parliament. The prime minister is a member of parliament and serves a five-year term. The prime minister cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. The current prime minister is Sibusiso Dlamini, who was appointed for a third term, by the king, on 17 September 2013. As a head of government, he chairs the cabinet meetings.

Cabinet government

The cabinet of the Swaziland government is appointed by the king on advise from the prime minister. The members of the cabinet must be members of either Houses of parliament. The members of the cabinet are known as ministers, and they head government departments called ministries. They head their respective portfolios until the end of the parliament's term, or unless there is a cabinet reshuffle, dismissal, or death.

Legislative branch

The Swazi bicameral Parliament or Libandla consists of the Senate (30 seats; 10 members appointed by the House of Assembly and 20 appointed by the monarch; to serve five-year terms) and the House of Assembly (65 seats; 10 members appointed by the monarch and 55 elected by popular vote; to serve five-year terms). The elections are held every five years after dissolution of parliament by the King. The last elections were held on 20 September 2013.[4][5] The balloting is done on a non-party basis in all categories. All election procedures are overseen by the elections and boundaries commission.[6]

Election procedure

Nominations take place at the chiefdoms. On the day of nomination, the name of the nominee is raised by a show of hand and the nominee is given an opportunity to indicate whether he or she accepts the nomination. If he or she accepts it, he or she must be supported by at least ten members of that chiefdom. The nominations are for the position of Member of Parliament, Constituency Headman (Indvuna) and the Constituency Executive Committee (Bucopho). The minimum number of nominees is four and the maximum is ten. Primary elections also take place at the chiefdom level. It is by secret ballot. During the Primary Elections, the voters are given an opportunity to elect the member of the executive committee (Bucopho) for that particular chiefdom. Aspiring Members of Parliament and the constituency Headman are also elected from each chiefdom. The secondary and final elections takes place at the various constituencies called Tinkhundla.[7] Candidates who won primary elections in the chiefdoms are considered nominees for the secondary elections at inkhundla or constituency level. The nominees with majority votes become the winners and they become members of parliament or constituency headman.[8][9]

Political parties and participation

For other political parties, see List of political parties in Swaziland. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Swaziland.

Political parties were banned by the constitution promulgated on 13 October 1978.[10] The new constitution does not take into consideration party activity whereas freedom of association is protected.

Summary of the 20 September 2013 House of Assembly of Swaziland election results
Members Seats
Elected from tinkhundla 55
Attorney-General 1
women elected for each region 4
Appointed members 10
Total 71

 Composition of the Swaziland Senate
Members Seats
Appointed members 20
Members elected by the House of Assembly 10
Total 30

Constitution of Swaziland

The 2005 constitution is currently in force. The constitution of 6 September 1968 was suspended 12 April 1973 by a State of Emergency decree imposed by King Sobhuza II, the father of the current King Mswati III. The decree gave absolute power to the monarchy and banned organised political opposition to royal rule.

A new constitution was promulgated 13 October 1978, but was not formally presented to the people.

In 2001 King Mswati III appointed a committee to draft a new constitution.[11] The draft was released for comment in May 2003, and was strongly criticised by civil society organizations in Swaziland, as well as by Amnesty International and the International Bar Association, among others.

Amnesty international listed the following criticisms of the draft constitution of 2003:

A new draft was placed before the largely advisory parliament on November 4, 2004. The draft reportedly is substantially the same as the version issued in 2003.

Swaziland's two largest political organisations, the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), together with labour unions, challenged the 2004 draft constitution in the Swaziland's High Court. However, in March 2005 the court upheld a ban on opposition political parties, citing the 1973 State of Emergency decree of King Sobhuza II. "It remains the duty and function of the court to uphold and apply the laws of the land, and especially so when constitutional issues are decided", the court ruled. The applicants indicated that they intended to pursue their case in the Court of Appeal.

Trade unions in the country have organized repeated strikes to protest against the lack of labour and political rights and the draft constitution. This included a general strike on 25 and 26 January 2005, although reportedly not widely heeded.

Administrative divisions

For local administration Swaziland is divided into four regions (Hhohho, Lubombo, Manzini, Shiselweni), each with an administrator appointed by the king. Parallel to the government structure is the traditional system consisting of the king and his advisers, traditional courts, and 55 tinkhundla (subregional districts in which traditional chiefs are grouped).

Foreign relations

Swaziland is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) which the U.S. began negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with in May 2003. The other members of SACU are Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa. Swaziland is further member of ACP, AfDB, C, ECA, FAO, G-77, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM, OAU, OPCW, PCA, SACU, SADC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO

External links


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