Freedom in the World
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The authorities in Swaziland continued to crack down on democracy advocates and curb critical media outlets in 2009, often by invoking the 2008 Suppression of Terrorism Act. However, in September a court acquitted and released Mario Masuku, leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement, who had been arrested on terrorism and sedition charges in 2008.
Swaziland has the world’s highest rate of HIV infection; estimates range from 26 to 33.4 percent of the sexually active population. In 2009, only about 32,000 Swazis were receiving antiretroviral drug treatment, out of an estimated 62,000 who require it. Swaziland also has the highest rate of tuberculosis infection. That disease, aggravated by HIV/AIDS, remains the country’s leading cause of death.
Swaziland is not an electoral democracy. King Mswati III is an absolute monarch with ultimate authority over the cabinet, legislature, and judiciary. Of the House of Assembly’s 65 members, 55 are elected by popular vote within the tinkhundla system, in which local chiefs vet all candidates. The king appoints the other 10 members. The king also appoints 20 members of the 30-seat Senate, with the remainder selected by the House of Assembly. Parliament members, all of whom serve five-year terms, are not allowed to initiate legislation. Traditional chiefs govern designated localities and typically report directly to the king.