World Bulletin / News Desk
The church and civil society groups in Zambia have demanded the government reinstate clauses removed from the country’s new constitution or face calls for mass mobilization against the charter.
Critics of the new constitution claim it gives too much power to the executive and essentially ensures a one-party government for the ruling Patriotic Front of President Edgar Lungu.
“The constitutional bill that parliament passed is far from being what the people recommended during the consultative meetings,” Bishop John Mambo, the founder of the Chikondi civic education foundation, told Anadolu Agency.
“This government, through parliament where the ruling party enjoys the majority, has once again duped the people of Zambia.”
He added: “Unless all the clauses that parliament, at the instigation of government, removed are reinstated, we will have no option but to mobilize our people to vote this government out this coming election.”
Zambia, which has been ruled by the Patriotic Front since 2011, is to hold presidential, parliamentary and local elections in August or September next year.
Elias Chipimo, president of the National Restoration Party, is one of the opposition figures uneasy about the form of the new constitution, which was passed by the Patriotic Front-dominated parliament on Dec. 4.
“The problem we have with this constitution is that it favors the party in power,” he said. “If we approve it as an opposition political party, it will mean rendering ourselves irrelevant in our pursuit for leadership of this country.”
He said parliament had approved the new charter without considering the implications for democracy in Zambia. “If we had our way, we would rather have the bill recalled and begin new negotiations for a better constitution, which will be accepted by all stakeholders in the country,” he said.
Chipimo called on Lungu, who came to power in January following the death of Michael Sata, to reject the constitution “in the interest of unity” and reconvene further public consultation.
“When we consider how the final draft constitution was birthed, it is extremely treacherous for any person, including the government, to think of altering the contents of a draft constitution which was compiled by the people of Zambia,” Chipimo told Anadolu Agency.
Earlier this week, the president told the Zambia Reports news website he was ready to approve the constitution.
“I have to do what the people want and it is sad that some people are always negative,” he said. “The people of Zambia also wanted the constitution and we have given them and it is up to them to decide who means well for the country.”
Among the changes made to the constitution by parliament was the removal of clauses introducing proportional representation and allowing Cabinet members to be selected from outside parliament.
Instead it adopted a block vote system that tends to produce a landslide for the largest party and a clause to stop lawmakers from changing party - measures the opposition feel strengthens the Patriotic Front.
McDonald Chipenzi, executive director at the Foundation for Democratic Process, said the amendments threatened to leave Zambia as a one-party state, with the president, who is head of government as well as head of state, dominating the legislature and judiciary.
“The approved constitution bill will give power to the executive to continue to have so much power,” he said. “We would have been comfortable if the clauses were left as submitted by the people.”
George Chisanga, president of the Law Association of Zambia, said the loss of progressive elements from the proposed constitution included removing a Bill of Rights that would enshrine fundamental rights for Zambians.
“Generally, the way the whole issue of the constitution [has been] handled shows that the government does not want people to participate in the democratic governance of this country,” he said.
A Bill of Rights separate from the constitution may be put to a referendum next year, possibly on the same day as the elections, or it may simply be dropped by the government. Current legislation granting individual freedoms is widely thought of as too weak.
Since it gained independence in 1964, the former British colony has struggled to find a constitution that best serves its 15 million population, with at least five major redrafts in 50 years.