Swaziland - Political background

The Swazi nation originated with the Ngwane people of the Nguni language group. The Ngwane moved into what is today Swaziland in the latter half of the 18th century. King Sobhuza I was responsible for conquering and incorporating other groups of Africans into the burgeoning Swazi Kingdom. Swaziland was administered for a short period by Afrikaners until the British declared the Swazi state a protectorate. Swaziland maintained this status from 1902 until 6 September 1968, when it received its formal independence.

At that time a parliamentary style of government was put in place. Parliament now consists of a 65-seat House of Assembly (55 members are elected through popular vote; 10 are appointed by the king) and 30-seat Senate (10 members are appointed by the House of Assembly, and 20 are appointed by the king). The king must approve legislation passed by Parliament before it becomes law.

After the Ngwane National Liberation Congress (NNLC) won the right to represent one of Swaziland's eight constituencies in 1972, King Sobhuza II banned all political parties, including his own Imbokodvo National Movement. King Sobhuza enacted a new electoral system in 1978, utilizing the tinkhundla, or local councils composed of two or three chief-taincies. Each tinkhunda sends two representatives to an electoral college, which selects their 55 members of Parliament from a list provided by the king.

Historically, the tinkhundla system has been a source of antagonism and uncertainty for many chiefs, who fear that the system of representation detracted from their traditional authority. The king appoints tindyuna, or governors, to head each tinkhundla , and the chiefs have voiced concern that their powers are being usurped by the tindyuna. A meeting of chiefs was held at Ludzidzini, the royal kraal (cattle enclosure) in 1986. The chiefs wanted clarification from the king as to the duties and rights that the chiefs would keep in relation to the king's tindyuna.

In fact, the trend in Swazi politics and government has been toward the centralization of power in the hands of the king and the expanding bureaucracy surrounding him. This tendency has decreased the power of chiefs and the Swazi people, which has in turn been reflected in poor voter turnout for elections to the tinkhundla. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) has provided assistance with local elections, starting with the Manzini elections of 1997. This assistance has resulted in more people registering and voting in local elections, although in 1997 still only 35% of those eligible to vote actually voted. Opposition groups have regularly called for voters to stay away from the polls in response to the continuing ban on political parties.

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