Most histories talk of the Swazi people migrating south prior to the 16th Century to the area around current day Maputo in Mozambique before moving north to part of Zululand around 1750. As the Zulus grew stronger the Swazi were forced to move further north to the current day Swaziland sometime in the 1800s.
Under Mswati II the Swazis expanded their territory in the 1840s and managed to stabilise a frontier with the Zulus. They did this partly with the support of the British Authorities in South Africa and after Mswati’s death they reached agreement with the British over a range of issues including independence, control of resources and security. From 1894 until 1902 the South Africans administered Swazi interests but afterwards the country became a British protectorate.
In 1921 under King Sobhuza II the Swazis established a legislative authority which advised the British High Commissioner. By 1944 the council lost its status and the paramount chief or king was recognised by the High Commission. Although the British had planned for Swaziland to be absorbed by South Africa in due course, the apartheid regime which came into existence after World War Two put a stop to that; Swaziland was prepared for independence.
By the early 1960s several political parties had been formed and were arguing for full independence. One such party was the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM) formed by King Sobhuza II. Elections under the colonial government were called for 1964 and despite the activities of four other political parties the INM won all 24 seats.
By 1966 the British agreed to a constitutional monarchy with self-government to follow after the 1967 elections. In the event Swaziland became fully independent on 6th September 1968. Further elections were held in 1972; the INM won 21 of the 24 seats and a new party, the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) won three seats.
Unhappy with the result King Sobhuza II repealed the 1968 constitution in 1973 and dissolved parliament whilst declaring an absolute monarchy. Political parties were banned along with Trade Unions. By January 1979 a new parliament was convened which was chosen partly through indirect elections and partly by the King.
King Sobhuza II died in August 1982, was replaced by Queen Regent Dzeliwe who in turn was replaced, during a period of turmoil, by Queen Regent Ntombi whose son Prince Makhosetive, was named heir to the Swazi throne.
Prince Makhosetive was eventually enthroned as Mswati III on April 25, 1986 and in November 1987 a new parliament was elected. The King was forced to make further democratic concessions over the next few years including direct and indirect voting in the 1993 elections.
By April 2001 a Constitutional Review Commission recommended that King Mswati’s powers should be extended and that all political parties should continue to be banned. A new constitution didn’t come into force until 2005.
The next election in 2008 was boycotted by trade unions and the banned political parties although it made little difference and 55 unaffiliated candidates were chosen for Swaziland’s House of Assembly.
Although the king is said to remain popular with the people, there has been increasing criticism of his lavish lifestyle and turnout in elections continues to fall. Turnout in 1993 was 61%, that dropped to 60.4% in 1998 and then 57.9% in 2003. After the new constitution came in to force the 2008 elections saw no improvement with 54% of those bothering to register actually voting.
A new election was called for 20th September 2013 and 415, 012 out of an estimated 600,000 possible voters had signed up to vote.
King Mswati III is Head of State.
The bicameral parliament consists of a Senate with 30 seats of which 10 members are appointed by the House of Assembly and 20 appointed by the monarch. Members serve five year terms. The House of Assembly has 65 seats of which 10 members are appointed by the monarch and 55 elected to serve five year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2014 places Swaziland at joint 69th out of 174 countries with a CPI 2014 score of 43 (where 100 is least corrupt).