Grand Coalition concerned about Referendum Amendment Bill

The Grand Coalition (GC) reiterated its position that Zambia desperately needs a new constitution that meets the aspirations of the people. The current draft constitution is a people’s constitution because it was developed after wide consultations with citizens at various levels of the society, and it would therefore be uncouth for the government or anyone to sabotage this process.

The GC maintains that by and large the current new draft constitution meets the basic minimum standards of a constitution that the people of Zambia have been demanding for over 20 years. The Grand Coalition therefore holds that this new draft constitution should be adopted wholesomely, through a popular-based approach – a National Referendum and enacted before the 2016 general elections. This is very possible, as we have seen other countries do it, even countries that Zambia supported in their quest for independence.

Historically, a number of lessons in the country show that piece-meal constitutional reforms have never worked, and will not work now as can be seen that constitutional review processes have “failed” because they have not met the expectations of the Zambian people. They start off very well by assembling groups of eminent persons to go around the country and collect peoples’ views but when it actually comes down to the adoptions themselves they have been done in a piece-meal fashion through a government white papers containing clauses that the Government of the day thinks are important and are taken to Parliament to be rubberstamped. Voting in Parliament is done on party lines and not necessarily according to what is in the best interests of the people of Zambia.

The excuses being tabled by the proponents of piecemeal amendment that Zambians cannot meet the threshold for a referendum provided for in Article 79 of the Constitution are baseless as history shows that we have achieved this threshold a number of times before. We would like to remind the nation that Zambia held a very successful referendum in 1969 in which 69.5% of those eligible to vote cast their vote.

 

This shows clearly that it is possible to get the numbers as has happened in the past. The only stumbling block right now would be the government’s lack of political will to see this process through to the desired end. We are tempted to believe that the Patriotic Front government just wants this process to flop, but they want to use other stakeholders as scapegoats. The people of Zambia know what they want and they cannot be cheated just like that.

 

 

The Grand Coalition therefore in opposition to the referendum Bill of 2015 notes the following concerns with the Amendment Bill 2015 to be soon debated in Parliament:

  1. It is unnecessary, unrealistic and unacceptable and a pick cherrying exercise on the part of government;
  2. The Government indicates that there exists a conflict between the Constitution and Referendum Act (1969) with regards the two provisions hence its desire to amend the Act to harmonise the laws. However, we note that the said conflict does not exist because what pertain to Article 79 is the amendment of the Bill of Rights and not the rest of the Constitution. It is our firm belief that there is no conflict between the referendum Act (1969) and the Constitution provisions on the holding of referendum in this country;
  • In fact, the proposed amendment Bill will make the holding of any referendum in Zambia on any issue almost impossible as it claims a threshold that is unattainable, and not feasible to determine. What the Bill suggests is that all constitutional or indeed any matter of national importance referred to a Referendum will need to meet the requirements of the 50% of persons entitled to be registered as voters, whether registered or not while the current Referendum Act in Section 3 advocates for a simple majority. Therefore the proposed threshold is unrealistic and not possible. It is just a means to avoid the very referendum the PF promised in their Manifesto (2011-2016) on page 42;
  1. The Government proposed amendment sabotages the current constitution reform process that is almost in its final stages by prescribing an impossible threshold;
  2. The amendment is therefore against the interests of the people of Zambia and must be thrown out with haste.

 

In view of the foregoing, the Grand Coalition is demanding that the current referendum Act must be left the way it is, and that Article 79 of the constitution should also be left the way it is as the two are not in conflict.

 

 

Issued by:

 

Sara Longwe

Vice-Chairperson – Grand Coalition on the Campaign for a People Driven Constitution

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