By Richard Lee
Frequent constitutional changes that are driven by executive interests rather than the will of the people are undermining democracy and political participation in Zambia, according to a newly launched discussion paper.
Based on the findings of a soon-to-be-published study – entitled Zambia: Democracy and Political Participation – the discussion paper argues that there seems to be either an unwillingness or an inability to genuinely transform the current political and constitutional order – to bring it into line with political realities and continental norms and frameworks.
Produced by the African Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP), the paper states that the current Patriotic Front government has the opportunity to complete the constitution making process during its term in office and urges the authorities to ensure that a new people-driven constitution is adopted – bringing an end to the continuous cycle of constitutional changes that has characterized Zambian politics since independence.
“Zambia should learn from its mistakes and those of other African states that underwent such national exercises, yet failed to regulate excessive power,” said MacDonald Chipenzi, Director of the Foundation for Democratic Progress. “Constitutional reforms are almost always dominated by the executive at the expense of the general populace and this must change if progress is to be made”.
However, concerns have been raised by many Zambians over the non-committal pronouncements by the government and the technical drafting committee drafting as to when the constitution making process will be completed. Indeed, many people fear that the process will not be finalised during the PF’s term in office – despite its election promise to rush a new constitution through in just 90 days.
The paper argues that ethnicity, patronage, and the preservation of executive power, concentrated overwhelmingly in the hands of one powerful leader, must change if there is ever going to be widespread public participation in governance.
It also urges opposition political parties to adopt the values of equal participation, transparency and accountability in their internal processes, which could improve the Zambian political and democratic landscape. Currently, factional debates are usually quashed and party members who voice dissent are punished with sanctions, demotions or dismissals. This undemocratic culture continues to curtail member participation and diversity at all levels.
The report focuses on four thematic areas:
- Zambia’s constitutional framework;
- Political parties;
- Local government; and
- Traditional authorities.
It makes recommendations for reforms in all these areas based on the contributions of, and consultations with, Zambian state and non-state actors.
Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Johannesburg)