Swaziland's King Mswati III is set to become the next chairman of the Southern African Development Community at the regional heads of state and government summit to be held in Swaziland's capital, Mbabane, in August.
But the kingdom's pro-democracy groups say the country's absolute monarch should not be allowed to lead the regional body. They argued the king's administration continuously violates the fundamental rights of citizens by preventing freedom of speech and association.
King Mswati recently told an SADC parliamentary forum that the kingdom's monarchical democracy — which his administration established — is "a new democratic ideology that works."
Political parties are banned from participating in elections organized by the Swaziland Electoral Commission — the only institution mandated to organize official polls in the southern African kingdom.
Mario Masuku, leader of the banned People's United Democratic Movement, a pro-democracy group, said King Mswati's imminent chairmanship of the regional body makes a mockery of the tenets of democracy.
“It is a shame for SADC to have a chairman of the character and caliber of King Mswati, who is an absolute monarch who does not respect the fundamental rights of people, [and] who does not respect the international norms of democracy," Masuku said.
Supporters of the administration say it is a source of pride for Swazis for King Mswati to assume the rotating chairmanship of the SADC. They also say violence carried out by pro-democracy groups has undermined peace and security in the country.
Masuku says people supporting the king do so only because they are benefiting from the status quo.
"Swaziland has been divided into two sections of society,” Masuku said. “One society is the one that benefits from the corrupt and unscrupulous manner of governance, and those will always back whatever the monarchy says because they benefit. The rest are the poor, the unemployed and all the people that respect the fundamental human rights."
The government plans to buy new cars for use by visiting heads of state and government when Swaziland hosts the Southern African Development Community meeting in August. But pro-democracy groups say the planned purchases, which they estimate at more than $11 million, reflect misplaced government priorities.