A lot of hot air is being generated in Swaziland about political parties as the kingdom gets ready for national elections later this year.
To some people they are the Devil’s work and part of a dark plot to destroy Swaziland and the Swazi way of life.
This is even though every parliamentary democracy in the world has them and they would be of great benefit to Swaziland if they were allowed to operate properly.
There is nothing sinister about political parties, or ‘multi-parties’ as the Swazi media often call them. A political party is simply a collection of people who come together because they have roughly the same set of views and opinions.
But, they don’t just meet for a ‘talking shop’: they aim to get political power. In a democracy this is done by getting people to elect your party into government.
In a parliamentary democracy you can have as many political parties as you want. But people would also be able to stand for election as individuals if they wished to and there is nothing to stop them being elected if enough voters wanted it.
After an election, the leader of the political party that wins the majority of seats in parliament becomes prime minister and appoints the government. If no single party wins a majority, two or more parties in parliament would usually join together to form a coalition government.
Whether there is a majority or a coalition government, there would also be at least one party in parliament that was the ‘opposition’ to the government. This means that there is always an alternative government available to the one in power. If the people don’t like the one in power, they can vote it out at the next election and put another party in government.
A major benefit of political parties for Swaziland is that parties not only allow people to select alternative governments, they allow people to discuss alternative policies.
There are so many problems in Swaziland at present that a succession of governments – which have been selected by King Mswati III and not elected by the people - have been unable to solve them. And, because political parties don’t exist, no alternative policies have been brought forward. Governments have clearly failed on poverty alleviation, corruption in every fabric of Swazi public life, jobs creation, attracting foreign investment into Swaziland, the HIV pandemic and so on.
Since political parties were banned in 1973 by King Sobhuza II’s Royal Proclamation, there has been no way for people to create and debate different policies or strategies for Swaziland: and then to choose the path that the kingdom ought to follow.
The present Swazi Government is led by Barnabas Dlamini, the Prime Minister who was elected by nobody, but instead was appointed in contravention of the 2005 Swaziland Constitution by King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Dlamini was not elected for the policies he would pursue while in office. He therefore has no mandate from the people to do anything.
Take the example of the present economic crisis in Swaziland. In October 2010, Dlamini took to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap (FAR) of financial measures to try to save the economy. For the past three years the IMF’s view of what should be the kingdom’s economic policy has dominated public life.
But, there has been no debate with the Swazi people about what the kingdom’s economic policies should be and therefore no alternative policy that people can agree on has been put forward.
If Swaziland had political parties that alternative would already be published and with the consent of the people could be implemented in the future.
Political parties also allow leaders to come through. People can develop their leadership skills within political parties and while part of the parliamentary ‘opposition’, prior to taking office in government.
One great weakness of Swaziland politics at present is the very low calibre of most people in parliament. Many have minimal education and few obvious skills. If political parties existed they could attract people of high calibre who knew that they had the opportunity of contributing to the future of Swaziland. Few present day members of the Swazi House of Assembly or Senate could honestly say that about themselves.
In the case of Swaziland where there is no democracy at present, we cannot have political parties without changes to the political system. To begin with all seats to the House of Assembly and the Senate must be open to election with none in the patronage of King Mswati, as now.
Second, the Swaziland Constitution must be respected. If political parties are to operate properly we must have these: freedom of organisation; freedom of speech and assembly; provision of a fair and peaceful competition; everyone to be included in the electoral process; media access and fair reporting and transparent and accountable financing of political parties.
Opponents of political parties in Swaziland often misunderstand an important point: just because political parties are allowed to exist that does not mean that people cannot stand for election to parliament as individuals. It follows that if the voters prefer individuals over political parties they will vote for them.
If there really is the love of the present system among Swazi people, as opponents of change say, political parties will wither and die through lack of support.
But, if the opponents are wrong and the Swazi people embrace the political parties, the benefit to them and the kingdom as a whole would be tremendous.
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