Under pressure to allow more freedom in Africa's last absolute monarchy, King Mswati III of Swaziland said Saturday he would consult his people on restoring the constitution suspended 23 years ago.
The remarks to journalists after an unscheduled meeting on regional issues with the presidents of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana indicated the king is still struggling with pro-democracy demands that erupted into a general strike two months ago.
Flanked by President Nelson Mandela, who has urged Mswati to relax his rule, the king offered no time frame for what he called "a question of reviving (the constitution) so that it meets our needs of today."
Mswati then referred to a forum he announced earlier this month that would review the constitution and suggest changes.
"We would give every Swazi an opporunity to say what he wants to say," Mswati said. "We will discuss with the nation which way to go forward. The king is always advised by the wishes of the people."
The opposition has demanded that political parties be unbanned before any consultations begin.
Mswati's father, King Sobhuza II, outlawed all party activity in 1973. The tiny mountain realm of 1 million people has since lived under a state of emergency that allows the king to rule by decree.
Many Swazis like the system, which brought a degree of stability rare in southern Africa in the 1970s and '80s. But others are demanding to join a regional surge of democracy capped by Mandela's election in 1994.
Working through trade unions to press their demands, pro-democracy activists staged an eight-day general strike in January and demanded parties be allowed to operate freely.
One demonstrator was killed as Mswati called out his army, and the king later claimed strike organizers had planned to topple him.
Swaziland's existing constitution would be reviewed and then put to the entire nation, Swazi King Mswati III said in Pretoria on Saturday.
He told reporters his people would decide which political route Swaziland should take.
Mswati earlier met President Nelson Mandela, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Botswana President Ketumile Masire to brief them on the political situation in his country.
Swaziland is the only southern African country where political parties are banned. Thus far Mswati has resisted pressure from opposition parties to allow multiparty politics.
On Saturday he said he would consult his people on the road ahead after his return to Swaziland.
"Obviously, one will have to set up a committee, which will have to look into the constitution," Mswati said. "It will first put together the present constitution. From there we give every Swazi an opportunity to say whatever he wants to say."
A formal constitution would then be drawn up with the help of lawyers and presented to the Swazi people - "and everyone can be happy this is a constitution for all Swazis".
Asked what the role of opposition would be in this process, the king said: "We leave that to the nation to decide which direction it wants to take. The king is advised by the people and he always acts on the wishes of the people."
He said he had briefed the three leaders on the actions his country were about to initiate.
"This year is the time for us to start drawing up the constitution in Swaziland," Mswati said. "The constitution has been there ... It is just to revive it so that it suits our days of today."
Mandela said the meeting was one "in the ordinary course" to address mutual problems, and the four leaders had briefed one another on the situation in their repective countries.
King Mswati III on Sunday denied reports that he had invited civic and other organisations in Swaziland to join a constitutional committee soon to be formed to review the country's constitution.
He said this at a hastily convened press conference at the Lozitha state palace on his return from a visit to South Africa.
Mswati said the rumours were no doubt spread by people interpreting his recent announcement that a constitutional review would begin. He had said every Swazi citizen would be invited to submit views on a new constitution, to be drafted by a constitutional committee.
What appears to have sparked the speculation was deputy prime minister Dr Sishayi Nxumalo's response to a question at the king's recent press conference in making the announcment.
Nxumalo had said all Swazis, including members of organisations and political movements which are curently illegal, would as individuals be entitled to make submissions.