SWAZILAND - Swaziland's King Mswati III has chosen an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant as his 14th wife, a palace spokesman said Tuesday, days before a much-criticised parliamentary vote.
"I can confirm that the king has introduced to the nation a new liphovela (royal fiancee)," said Ludzidzini palace governor Timothy Mtetwa.
Mswati, a 45-year-old who is sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, introduced Sindiswa Dlamini at a Reed Dance celebration over the weekend, Mtetwa told AFP.
She wore red feathers on her head - a sign of royalty.
The young woman graduated from Mbabane's St. Francis High School last year and is a finalist in the Miss Cultural Heritage beauty pageant. The winner will be announced on September 28.
The king has come under fire for his household's lavish lifestyle while the tiny mountain kingdom's 1.2 million people struggle to make a living.
Mswati reportedly has a personal fortune of around $200 million (S$252 million) and the UN estimates that 70 per cent of his 1.2 million subjects live below the poverty line.
He has steadfastly resisted reforms.
The new engagement was announced at a festival which also counted regional delegates who will observe parliamentary elections on Friday.
Critics have slammed the polls as a sham, partly because political parties are banned and candidates are hand-picked by traditional leaders.