GRAND COALITION STATEMENT ON THE EVE OF THE REFERENDUM
Lusaka, 09 August 2016: On the eve of the national Referendum on the Bill of Rights that will take place alongside the general elections this Thursday on the 11 of August 2016, the Grand Coalition on the Campaign for a People Driven Constitution reiterates its position on this exercise as follows:
1. To us in the Grand Coalition the holding of the referendum is and has always been a must and unavoidable. Right from the beginning of our campaign the improvement and expansion of our current Bill of Rights was one of the basic minimum principles we drew for ourselves as a measure of a new people driven constitution.
2. We strongly believe that a process of a referendum called to change and adopt many provisions such as the adoption of a new Bill of Rights should be handled differently from a one issue referendum question. To vote on a list of issues a national consensus or a meeting of the minds is an essential prerequisite to holding such a process. Our assessment is that there is no consensus or even any attempt to build consensus and the current division of the ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ campaigners is totally misplaced for the adoption of a whole Bill of Rights.
3. We believe that the adoption of a new Bill of Rights is a much more important national undertaking than the mere election of persons into political offices. Therefore, the adoption of the Bill of Rights should not take a partisan route as this referendum campaign has taken.
4. We believe that a standalone referendum outside a partisan charged atmosphere will render more legitimacy to the exercise than what will take place on Thursday, which we strongly believe is being done for expediency than any serious intention to enhance the rights of everyone in Zambia.
5. We are meant to believe that the reasons for holding the referendum alongside the general elections is to save on cost of a standalone referendum and to mitigate the previous voter apathy experienced in the past elections. However, the fact of holding the referendum alongside the elections is proving more a distraction than an attraction and Zambia is better off at this time postponing the referendum. Furthermore, we see the eminent failure of the referendum to be more costly than cheap for our nation.
6. The partisan trajectory the campaign has taken will result in more spoiled ballots not only for the referendum but also for the general elections and will ultimately and grossly distort the results of both national processes.
7. We would like to believe that using a national registration card for voting in a referendum is a testimony of the incomprehensive registration of voters in the country because how else does the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) explain the failure to capture the number of voters who are expected to vote with a registration card only, in order to make up the threshold required by Article 79 of the current Constitution which the voters’ roll did not capture? Or is the ECZ telling us that the voters expected to vote on the referendum using only their registration cards are only those born in 1998 who had not reached 18 years of age by the time of the voter registration?
8. Previous constitutions and constitutionalism has failed in Zambia because people whom it is supposed to regulate and provide remedy in case of human rights violations are not aware and therefore do not understand the human rights provisions contained therein resulting in a Bill of Rights that is on paper only.
If indeed as per Article 5 paragraph 1 of the Constitution of Zambia Amendment of 2016 and publicly assented to by the Republican President on the 5th of January 2016, ‘the sovereign authority vests in the people of Zambia, which can be exercised directly or through elected or appointed representatives or institutions.’ We then therefore strongly urge the political powers that made the decision to hold the referendum alongside the general elections to rescind the decision in the national interest and let us postpone the referendum to a more conducive time when the people of Zambia can wholly focus and exercise that sovereign authority which is constitutionally guaranteed to us.
Chairperson – Grand Coalition on the Campaign for a People Driven Constitution