Chief Governemnt spokesperson and minister of Information Chishimba Kambwili has said the probability of holding a successful referendum before the 2016 general elections, under the current constitutional provisions is slim.Speaking at a press briefing this morning Mr Kabwili said the Government, under the able leadership of His Excellency Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, remains fully committed to delivering a new Constitution and is considering all possible options of delivering a new Constitution in the shortest possible time.
Citing Article 79 (3) of the current Constitution of Zambia that states
A bill for the alteration of Part III of this Constitution or of this Article shall not be passed unless before the first reading of the bill in the National Assembly it has been put to a National referendum with or without amendment by not less than fifty per cent of persons entitled to be registered as voters for the purposes of Presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mr Kambwili said the requirement is that more than half of the people that are eligible to vote in a general election should participate in a referendum for it to be valid.
The preliminary 2010 Census Report states that the total number of eligible voters is 6, 069, 753. This means that for the referendum to be successful, in accordance with Article 79(3), more than fifty per cent (50%) of 6, 069, 753, which translates into more than 3, 034, 877 eligible voters must participate in the vote.
In this case, the first basic minimum requirement is that voter turnout should be more than 3, 034, 877. This figure translates into 59% of the current number of registered voters, which stands at 5, 166, 084.
Mr.Kambwili said the Zambian people may wish to note that although the voter register captures over 5, 000,000 eligible voters, voter apathy in Zambia has been on the increase. In the 2011 tripartite elections, with that massive campaign, the country only attracted 2, 789, 340 voters, representing 54% of the total number of registered voters. This is despite the fact that there were thousands of candidates contesting elections at ward, constituency and national (presidential) level.
In 2015, out of the same number of registered voters, only a paltry 1, 671, 662 voters turned up to vote, representing 32% of registered voters. This is notwithstanding the fact that there were eleven candidates who campaigned in all corners of the country by holding mammoth rallies and engaging grassroots political party structures.
Mr.Kambwili said government is sincerely concerned that the current voter apathy may negatively affect the referendum and render it an exercise in futility. A failed referendum will entail that the electoral related provisions contained in the Final Draft Constitution, which do not require a referendum, will not be made part of the Constitution during the 2016 presidential and general elections.
He said in taking a rigid stance on the referendum, the Grand Coalition should consider the fact that in a referendum there are no candidates and this could make it extremely challenging to reach voters and persuade them to participate in the referendum. A referendum campaign usually lacks a personal appeal that comes with an election. In an election, candidates attract friends and relatives to turn up and vote.
Mr.Kambwili said while government remains open to dialogue on adopting the new Constitution through a national referendum, the PF government wishes to invite the Grand Coalition to critically and objectively interrogate the success probability of a national referendum and give comfort that the people of Zambia will not stand to lose out.
He said the Grand Coalition needs to demonstrate that there is enough capacity and time to woo 59% of the current registered voters to the polling station before the 2016 general elections. As earlier stated, the most recent poll only attracted 32% of registered voters.
Mr.Kambwili said it is for this reason that government, in utmost sincerity, finds it more realistic to have popular demand provisions, of the Final Draft Constitution of the Silungwe Constitution Technical Committee that do not need a referendum, be incorporated in the Constitution by amending the current Constitution. He said this is not only cheap but faster, considering that the elections are not very far.
Through Parliament, all the provisions in the current Constitution that need to be changed can be changed, leaving out the Bill of Rights (Part III) and Article 79 of the current Constitution.
The Bill of Rights and Article 79 can be subjected to a referendum at a later stage. Mr Kambwili said this, for example, could be during the 2016 General Elections. In this case, in addition to a presidential, parliamentary and council ballot, a ballot for the Constitution could be added so that as people vote for their representatives they also vote for the alteration of Part III and Article 79 of the current Constitution. If the voter turn-out in 2016 does not meet the referendum threshold, it would not be a waste of resources in that the exercise would not have been a stand-alone activity.