Of late, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and citizens at large have been hearing accusations and counter-accusations from the highest office of the land, the Presidency, and the Grand Coalition on a People-driven Constitution, which comprises and speak for its members such as the United Party for National Development (UPND) on who must shoulder the blame for the imminent failure of Constitution Bill No. 17 in Parliament.
First, our view is that, if truly Parliament comprises principled and leaders of good quality elected to make laws on behalf of the people, the Constitution Amendment Bill must never fail to go through. We are quite confident the Bill will pass if our MPs are allowed to freely debate without fear of sanctions or reprisals from their political parties. The Patriotic Front (PF) President Edgar Lungu has shown the way and the burden now rest wits on the shoulders of Opposition UPND and MMD to show a similar commitment by freely letting Members of Parliament to debate and pass the Bill. Indeed, Parliament represents the views of the people of Zambia, not political parties.
The failure of the Bill in Parliament can only occur in the face of 3 factors:
1. Fear of progressive clauses such as the 50% +1 by our political parties which will make it more difficult for any single political party to win the presidency without convincing a true majority of Zambians of its programmes. On the positive side, this clause will give the smaller parties the power to influence public policy by holding the balance of power in a run-off, which will also result in the larger parties giving due respect to all political players;
2. The Bill may fail if Members of Parliament from political parties lured away from political parties which sponsored them into parliament by the attractions and trappings of political office, namely, the positions of minister or deputy Minister begin to pursue narrow personal interests. There may therefore be resistance to the Clause which seek to have ministers appointed from outside parliament, since a member of parliament offered a ministerial post, would be required to resign from the position of member of parliament without the right or certainty of returning to the House in the event that they lost ministerial office; and
3. MPs may themselves contribute to the failure of the Bill if these MPS choose to ignore, or simply forget the lessons of history by their failure to attend Parliament during this crucial debate, as happened in 2011.
We are also conscious of the fact that we have, in our political dispensation, selfish and immature leaders who have never wanted a good and progressive Constitution, preferring the status quo as it suits their present circumstances. Sadly, Zambia has political leaders and civil society organisations who will always look forward to failure of the Constitution reform process, like they caused it to fail on 29 March 2011, so they could take political mileage or continue to use this process to raise funding for themselves. YALI wants the Bill to pass so we could save both our local taxpayers monies and, in future, apply resources from the international community to other needy areas apart from Constitution reform.
In this Constitution, YALI wants true and attainable guarantees of good governance, fair representation of the youth in decision-making and elective offices without one fearing to be discriminated against based on age, true gender equality, protection of our children, the advancement of women to true parity of the sexes, a true advancement of democracy and respect for human rights.
Unfortunately, we have selfish and parochial leaders both in the House and in the political parties whose main focus is the attainment of political power for themselves and for their own personal purposes, not for the benefit of the people whose name they abuse daily.
We saw first in 2011, how one person’s desire to get into power, effectively sabotaged the 2011 Constitution of Zambia bill, because this one person, in blatant violation of the law (NCC Act), wanted certain clauses sneaked into the Constitution to guarantee his own position in exchange for political support to his potential allies. When this person’s demands were rejected for being unlawful, political support was withdrawn and the Constitution of Zambia Bill, 2011 fell 15 votes short, and failed.
We know of certain political parties that celebrate failure by its political opponents, regardless of the unfortunate consequences to the Zambian community at large or gradual development of law. Some civil society activists are on record of having said “since the government has refused to bow to the Grand Coalition’s demands for the Constitution ‘to be adopted by referendum’, the only thing left for the Grand Coalition is to help ensure that the Constitution Bill fails”.
We appeal to MPs of good conscience, MPs who truly have the interests of Zambia and its people at heart, to take up their duty of making good laws for our country, to take up the challenge and pass a good and progressive constitution.
We also wish to remind MMD MPs of the events of March 2011, when all their hard their work to give Zambia a progressive constitution, were sabotaged by a supposed ally and a decent constitution was sacrificed on the altar of personal glory and power.
We therefore call upon the MMD MPs to use their experience in guiding the rest of the House to objectively debate and support the Bill, without allowing themselves to be held hostage by their aspirations in the way of adoption to stand, ahead of the 2016 elections.
Shooting down of abstaining from voting on the current Constitution Amendment Bill will only contribute to retention of the 1996 Constitution which does not promote competitive democracy and favours the party in power. Our MPs have a choice on whether to retain the Constitution that favours or gives vast powers to the ruling party or to give Zambians a better one by enacting the current Constitution Bill into law.
We are confident that, in the face of pressure from selfish party leaders, all our political parties have some independent-minded and upright leaders who can think outside the box and do what is right. We recognise, however, that unfortunately, no matter how much they may want to do what is right, the political survival of these independent-minded MPs may be dependent on acting the same way as their party leaders. If the leader does not want something, no matter how right it is to do, these MPs have to sadly follow what the leader says or thinks.
Zambians must remember that when the UPND failed to support the Bill on 29 March 2011, its leader, Mr. Hichilema, claimed the Bill was unsatisfactory, as it did not include a number of critical amendments, particularly the Presidential running mate and the 50%-plus-one requirement, which would have changed the presidential voting system from the current first-past-the-post system to one in which a candidate would need more than 50% of the vote to win.
Today, we have a Bill that has the 50 percent plus one and the running mate which the UPND gave as one reason not to support the 2011.
We should not be surprised if, on this occasion, our compatriots on the opposition UPND benches, refuse to support the 2015 Bill; this is because they now believe they are close to winning the 2016 elections with a slight margin, and the 50% +1 will be a hindrance to such victory.
We ask Zambians to watch how the UPND, MMD and PF MPS will debate this Bill. We look forward to our MPs from all political parties, including the UPND, proving us wrong by passing this Bill.
We are equally disturbed by the almost comical statement made by the Chair of the Grand Coalition on the adoption of a people driven Constitution, Fr. Leonard Chiti, in which he claims the re-enactment of the Constitution through Parliament, is a betrayal of the people and of the Patriotic Front party’s own Manifesto in which the party pledged to “adopt the constitution through a referendum”.
We are utterly puzzled at their insistence on having the Constitution “adopted through a referendum” even though it has been stated repeatedly, that under current Zambian law, no such method of re-enacting the Constitution is permitted or provided for, or even suggested.
We can only conclude that the Grand Coalition has a special interest in certain provisions which, if subjected to free and open debate in parliament, will not pass for being obnoxious or against constitutional values or customs. It is unimaginable that the Grand Coalition is, for instance, advocating for a Draft Constitution which will auction Zambia to foriegn nationals by allowing non-Zambian citizens to stand in an election although the same draft Constitution does not allow these foriegn citizens to vote. You surely want to protect Parliament from scrutinising such a law?
The Grand Coalition is obviously labouring under the false impression that such clauses, once voted upon in a referendum, cannot subsequently be removed, deleted or amended by Parliament. This is a myth; Parliament has full power to debate and amend any provision in the Draft Constitution, regardless of the outcome of a Referendum.
Having had their plans to arrest parliamentary proceedings thwarted by precedence in the ZADECO Vs Attorney General, the Grand Coalition now resorts to accusing their erstwhile allies and cohorts of reneging on electoral campaign promises. May we remind the Grand Coalition that no political party manifesto is above the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia, and any attempt to subvert the Constitution to a party manifesto would have been met with a fierce response asserting the supremacy of the Constitution.
We urge fellow citizens to uphold the rule of law underpinned by the current Constitution of Zambia which ONLY grant an exclusive mandate to our freely elected Members of Parliament to make laws for our Republic, and to support the current process.
YALI fully agrees and endorse President Edgar Lungu’s call upon our fellow citizens to demand that Members of Parliament do the right thing and give us a progressive constitution which we have been demand all these years.
We want to encourage all political leaders whose political parties are represented in Parliament i.e Edith Nawakwi, Charles Milupi, Nevers Mumba, and Hakainde Hichilema, to come out clearly and show a political will by encouraging their Members of Parliament to, for once, be on the right side of history where they will contribute to successfully bettering our Constitution and protecting the people’s interest and voice. That Bill before the House, in all its respects, represents the consistent calls by the people to have better laws. Members of Parliament must listen to their own conscience and deliver that better law as we await for the Referendum of 2016 to also include the expanded Bill of Rights.
Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI)