Analysis by Sunday Chilufya Chanda
One of the main duties, if not the most important, of a Member of Parliament, is to effectively represent their constituents. Save for the occasional by-election, every five years Zambians elect one of their own to be their voice in the house of laws.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean these constituents expect their parliamentary envoy will agree or disagree with everything that comes to the floor, they do expect that these representatives will stand vigilant and firm, serve as their voice and champion their interests within the chambers.
However what we see is a group of absconders rather than representatives, a collection of politicians that, since President Edgar Lungu assumed office, wantonly abandons their legislative business in the name of protesting. This collection, of course, is comprised of the opposition UPND Members of Parliament.
Most recently, these opposition lawmakers have declared they will not support the Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 that’s currently under review at committee stage. And yes, while they may choose not to support the bill, the manner in which they are going about this is troubling. In effect, they are running away from their duties, opting to stage a walk-out rather than engage in the institutional processes of legislative negotiation and debate available to them. Have they even read it? And if so, what is their major contention?
But we’ve seen this behavior before. While numerous MPs, civil society members and other stakeholders attended the National Dialogue Forum (NDF) that produced this Bill Number 10, the UPND, as a party, was notably absent.
So how can these MPs rubbish a piece of legislation whose resolutions they are not privy to? They have openly declared war against the process when it comes for enactment before the President signs it into law.
Reading a quote by UPND Sesheke MP Romeo Kang’ombe reveals that his party has agreed to frustrate the process potentially at directives of party president Hakainde Hichilema.
Kang’ombe is quoted as saying;
“We did not attend (the National Dialogue Forum) on the pretext that the parliamentary committee that sat and received recommendations from the general public informed the House that we shouldn’t go ahead, but the arrogance of numbers won. So, why should I go if the committee says otherwise. Should I go because the PF members of parliament have pushed their agenda? Even now, as they bring it on the floor of the House, all of us are going to walk out because we are listening to the bigger voice! And we start with the bigger voice and not the minority.”
Although Kang’ombe is new to this session, these tricks are not alien to Zambians. Their misconduct in the house is well documented. The speaker has even cautioned if not outright sanctioned these representatives. They caused a scene when President Edgar Lungu was elected and came to address the house.
In the name of toeing their party line, which is essentially an unyielding refusal to recognize a legitimately elected president, they once walked away on the Head of State but still wanted to get their sitting allowances. Understandably, they were punished. And they ended up apologizing. But it seems they never learn, or worse still, they are on a deliberate course to obstruct and frustrate democratic processes.
Indeed their leader Mr. Hichilema is an avowed obstructionist, and the legislators aligned with UPND are his loyal followers. Accordingly, they’ve undertaken the mission of derailing the progress of the Constitution Amendment Bill at his direction. But what else can their opposition to this legislation be if not gaslighting, distracting or political gaming?
If UPND legislators and party leaders feel that the Constitution Amendment Bill 10 features unwanted stipulations, then they should bring those grievances to the house and engage with fellow parliamentarians from both the opposition and ruling party. Otherwise, what grounds do they have to oppose the outcome?
After all, they stayed away from the NDF where they would have been part of the process and would have possessed considerable understanding of the issues at play. But no, they are lost and don’t seem to know what they are doing.
Look at their leader Hichilema. In one breath he is reporting to the Anti-Corruption Commission allegations of corruption while in another he tells his MPs to walk out on a disagreeable bill in parliament. Do these people have any sense of logic?
It’s clear that the UPND MPs are not representatives but absconders, politically-minded legislators whose supporters should seriously question a their role in parliament. You don’t run away from challenges, but face them by finding solutions and overcoming. This is the most basic social contract between citizens and their elected officials.
Walking out smacks of cowardice and an attempt to earn sitting allowances by false pretense. MPs are to be representatives, not recklessly self-interested absconders. The UPND must overcome their political inclinations and put their case on record. Absconding will yield nothing more than further insult and injury to the people they claim to represent.
The Author is Patriotic Front Media Director