Swaziland is amongst the last absolute monarchies in the world. Although a new constitution and bill of rights was introduced in 2006, political space remains severely limited, not least for political parties. To support the demand for a transition to democracy, the Danish Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Danish Red-Green Alliance (RGA) have both entered into partnerships with two of the key actors in the fight for political reform, Swazi Democratic Party (SWADEPA) and the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) respectively.
While Swaziland had a brief period of multiparty democracy following independence in 1963, its political history is characterised by the dominance of the Monarchy, at present King Mswati III.
Political parties were banned from participating in elections by royal decree in 1973 and constitutional rights suspended. Politics has subsequently been dominated by the political system of ‘Tinkhundla’, where a majority of members of the National Assembly are elected on an individual basis and the remaining appointed by the king. The King, however, has retained legislative power, while the role of the Parliament is primarily advisory. The system is by the regime claimed to unite modern political values with Swazi culture and tradition – though internationally widely criticized for securing the King absolute power.
The new constitution from 2006 formally guarantees the right of assembly and association, but the legal status of political parties remains unclear and is widely debated.
In spite of limited political space for political opposition, Swaziland is nevertheless home to a range of political parties. The three largest are the Peoples’ United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and Swazi Democratic Party (SWADEPA). Although the parties do not always see eye to eye on the choice of strategy for pushing for reform, attempts are made to create a united front in the fight for democracy in Swaziland.