The Civil Society Constitutional Agenda (CiSCA) has called upon President Hakainde Hichilema to commence the process of holding a national referendum to incorporate the progressive economic and social measures introduced by his government into the Bill of Rights. The aim is to ensure the long-term protection of these crucial human rights provisions against potential reversals by future administrations.
CiSCA acknowledges the concerns expressed by President Hichilema during a press briefing held on 18th May 2023 at State House. The President highlighted the vulnerability of the free education program, meal allowances for tertiary students, and increased social cash transfers, which could potentially be overturned by a different government or President. While appreciating the President’s initiatives in providing these essential services, CiSCA agrees that such concerns are valid, given the wide-ranging powers vested in the office of the President. Additionally, it recognizes the President’s desire to leave a lasting legacy and believes that safeguarding these initiatives is a vital step toward achieving that goal.
In light of these considerations, CiSCA urges President Hichilema to expedite the process of expanding the Bill of Rights to incorporate these measures and other economic, social, and cultural rights into the Constitution. By doing so, these rights can be entrenched as sustainable safeguards for the vulnerable segments of society, whose vulnerability is likely to persist. Without constitutional protection, these measures may be perceived as mere acts of favoritism from the President, subject to withdrawal at any given time.
For the referendum to be successful, CiSCA emphasizes the need to foster consensus among citizens and political leaders. The goal is to ensure that the referendum becomes a unifying national endeavor rather than a battleground for political divisions. Ideally, the referendum should be held one year before the 2026 general elections, distancing it from the confrontational atmosphere typically observed during election campaigns. CiSCA believes that the ruling party has a responsibility to lead in narrowing political polarization, as President Hichilema frequently expresses his desire to unite Zambia. Inviting opposition leaders to contribute alternative pragmatic solutions to the nation’s challenges can serve as a starting point for consensus building on the necessity of expanding the Bill of Rights to include economic and social rights through a mandatory referendum.
CiSCA also calls upon opposition political leaders to respond to the invitation and offer alternative solutions, considering their role as advocates for the welfare of ordinary citizens. It urges them to prioritize the wellbeing of the people over political elitism.
Failure to hold a referendum and leaving the vulnerable members of society at the mercy of political shifts will prompt Zambians to engage President Hichilema and his government in a discussion. In a nation grappling with chronic poverty, unemployment, and inequality, citizens will seek to understand why the most vulnerable are exposed to the risk of regressing from the progressive gains achieved.