By Mainda Simataa President – Movement for Economic Freedom (MEF)
REFERENDUM QUESTION: “Do you agree to the amendment to the Constitution to enhance the Bill of rights contained in Part III of the Constitution of Zambia and to repeal and replace Article 79 of the Constitution of Zambia?”
While we agree in principle, that during the evolution of every nation, constitutional changes, and even referenda, are necessary and inevitable in order to preserve of “enhance” the rights of a people, we are adamantly and diametrically opposed to the procedure adopted, namely, ECZ’s ill-timed and ill-advised decision to hold the referendum alongside a general election, would be a first of its kind in world electoral history.
There are many reasons for our objection, but if we could only advance one critical and over-arching reason, it would be simply this – Never ever must we ever consider repealing (deleting) or amending (changing)/replacing Article 79 of the Zambian constitution because it safeguards the sacred Bill of rights. To repeal Article 79 for whatever reason, as the referendum question states, would be tantamount to mass-suicide, it would be granting whichever party controls parliament the license and unlimited power to alter or take away our human rights without the obligation which article 79 has imposed on parliament, namely – to consult and get consent from over 50% of all Zambians aged 18 and above, and only via the referendum. Article 79 is what makes Zambia a democracy and not a dictatorship, and be reminded, the repeal of the Bill of rights is what opened the door for UNIP to declare Zambia a one party state, on the pretext that parliament needed unlimited powers to repossess land from the whites, which the whites had cleverly protected under part three of the Bill of rights – the one part which politicians have no power to change, unless they consult the people right to enter.
Therefore, we hereby advance 10 more grounds on why we, and every other well-meaning, and well informed Zambian should stand up in opposing the ECZ chaos-formula, and vote NO, if ECZ proceeds with its stance.
1. Commonsense (which seems to be in short supply at ECZ), will inform you that if you hold a referendum question alongside the general election, the voters will invariably consider and decide on the issue based on the official position of the respective parties/leaders, which should never be the case; because socio-economic rights, which are the subject of this referendum we are told, cross political boundaries – they are for everyone – our generation and the future!
2. It is in view of point number one that in the history of the world, and the history of Zambia, a referendum HAS NEVER BEEN, and must never be held alongside a general election because the referendum is not a political contest or consideration that serves to advance the narrow interests of a given political party, no, a referendum is there to advance the interests of an entire nation (or at least the interests of the majority of the indigenous people of that nation).
3. Holding a referendum alongside a general election will ultimately result in politically-driven constitution that will not last the test of time, since the constitution will have the brand of a particular party stamped on it.
4. Having a politically driven constitution will sooner or later, call for more constitutional amendments which will come with further costs of their own, cost which can be avoided if the referendum question is not politicized or mixed with the general election.
5. Holding a referendum alongside a general election will create a loophole for rigging, and therefore compromise the outcome of the general elections because, under the proposed ECZ system of holding the referendum alongside the elections, eligible referendum voters, who are not registered voters, but nonetheless registered Zambians , will have an opportunity to also cast an election vote since ECZ is telling us that referendum voters will share the same polling day, same polling station, same polling booth, and same ballot papers, and ECZ has not put any control mechanism to ensure that the referendum voters to not cast an election vote.
6. Further, under the rules of referendum voting, ECZ is supposed to acquire and publish an updated register of all Zambians turned 18 and above – and also ensure that they are all issued with a green National Registration Card, before the date of the referendum, so as to safe-guard the integrity and process of the referendum which requires that more than 50% of eligible Zambians participate in the process. As things stand, foreigners holding unverified NRC’s can vote in the referendum and also in the election since the loophole already exists.
7. ECZ has failed in its duty, to ensure that as far as possible, the referendum question itself is made SIMPLE, CLEAR and CONCISE, for the average literate person to understand. A question that is posed in lengthy legalistic fashion is of no good to the average Zambian.
8. Further to point 8, as a course of natural justice and common sense, the ECZ has lamentably failed to print, distribute and avail in all local languages, the referendum question in all local, and to all whom it concerns, and further, they have failed to direct sufficient financial and time, for analysis, debate and consideration, required to prepare the lowest Zambian as fit to vote in the referendum.
9. The cost reduction excuse being advanced by counsel Edgar Lungu as the reason why the referendum process should held simultaneously with the general election does not hold water; for the simple reason that such an important and mammoth undertaking, which can be likened to a census, should have been budgeted for long in advance, or at least borrowed for, as is the tradition in Zambia.
10. The referendum question as posed by ECZ is deceptive, for the reason I’ve stated in my preamble. Further, it’s the longest, most ambiguous and most confusing question in referenda world history even drawn. It framed in a fashion fit for the legal or high minded, which confuses the ordinary people from whom it is meant. It is to avoid such confusion that Canada, in 1985, actuality passed a “clarity Act” to protect the voting public from being deliberately misguided. The UK also has a “12 weeks” law that requires a selected board to simplify the referendum down to one sentence or two, before the question is published for public consideration. The referendum question must be SIMPLE to understand, clear and brief.
In view of the above reasons, the Movement for Economic Freedom, acting for and on behalf all Zambians, strongly recommends and submits, that the referendum, as a matter of national security and the preservation of democracy, be forthwith SEPERATED FROM THE GENERAL ELECTION and POSTPONED to enable ECZ consider and clarify the implications thereof, and allow such time as is necessary to allow for proper organization and education/preparedness of the people to enable them decide on this matter that is above partisan politics. Anything less than such an Act will be a travesty of justice.
Our closing advice: VOTE NO IF YOU DON’T KNOW OR IN DOUBT.