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OPPOSITION UNITE…let’s say in one voice no third term, demand abolition of ConCourt

(By Salim Dawood and Melony Chisanga)

TEN opposition leaders have urged Zambians to rise up from “slumber and demand a new people driven constitutional review process to amend the current constitution to remove ambiguities and ensure that no person can claim eligibility to stand for a third term.

“Let us say in one voice; no third term for Mr Lungu or anyone else,” they said.

“To rise up in unity and demand that the judiciary be allowed to operate freely and independently without interference from anyone. To demand for radical judicial reforms the Kenya and South Africa way and for the consequent abolition of the Constitutional Court. Join us in the fight against corruption; to unite as one and to act together now to protect your power, the people’s power, from being abused and taken away by the greedy and corrupt elements of our society; to bring an end politically motivated intolerance, an end to political violence, to restore peace, love and unity for which Zambia is renowned and to restore the dignity of mother Zambia by speaking out against all that is wrong and unZambian in our country today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future.”

 

They urged Zambians to reject the unrealistic and excessive taxes and levies that have already overstretched their incomes.

“And, most importantly, to demand for accountability in the use of public wealth and the prudent and equitable distribution of resources to key areas of need, including health, education, water and sanitation and for the lowering of prices of fuel, millie-meal and other essential commodities,” they said.

 

“We as opposition political parties open our doors to all Zambians, other like-minded political parties, including the multitudes of unhappy members of the PF and other organisations or associations to join us and together we do what is best for mother Zambia and one another. Zambia calo cesu elo twa kwata fye cimo [Zambia is our only country] and the time for action is now. We must use all lawful means available to protect our great Nation Zambia!”

 

Announcing their alliance at Lusaka’s Taj Pamodzi Hotel yesterday, Hakainde Hichilema (UPND), Charles Milupi (ADD), Chishimba Kambwili (NDC), Sean Tembo (PeP), Elias Chipimo (NAREP), Fresher Siwale (New Labour Party), Andyford Banda (PAC), Mike Mulongoti (Peoples Party), James Lukuku (RPP), and Charles Banda of UPPZ committed themselves to serving “our motherland above ourselves.”

 

“We shall not relent in the battle to save our democracy and so we shall explore all local and international legal avenues to address the current situation obtaining in Zambia,” the leaders said.

“We remain united in purpose as the opposition.”

In their joint communique, the leaders resolved to unite and work on a common cause of combining their respective unique skills and key competencies to forge a formidable team that would be better placed to redeem Zambians from the shackles of poverty and hopelessness which they are currently subjected to.

The leaders noted Zambia has been a bastion of democracy in Africa and beyond.

“However, over the years following the death of president Michael Sata, in 2014, the democratic space, and with it the fortunes of our beloved country, has shrunk to the point where Zambia is all but a totalitarian nation today,” they said. “While the opposition has borne the brunt of the declining democratic standards, the people of Zambia have suffered the biggest blow, with standards of living dropping to the pre-Mwanawasa and pre-HIPC completion levels, owing to mismanagement of the economy by an unlistening and self-centred PF government, which thrives on corruption and undemocratic rule to secure the personal interests of its leaders.”

The leaders said as a result, poverty was widespread in Zambia, affecting 64 per cent of the total population and rising to 80 per cent in rural areas.

The opposition said the cost of living was unbearably high with the Basic Needs Basket for a family of five standing at K5,575 as at March 2018, which is well beyond the reach of the majority Zambians, while the cost of fuel and a bag of millie-meal exceed that which an ordinary Zambian could sustain.

“On top of that, we are taxed and levied on everything including our own boreholes, while sources of income dwindle on a daily basis,” the leaders said. “To add to the foregoing, Zambians who do not support the PF or are not seen to be supporting the PF are denied opportunities to trade in markets, bus stops and other trading places which should ordinarily be open for all Zambians to operate in.”

The opposition said the rule of law was highly compromised with corruption being the order of the day and those who dare speak out against it become instant enemies of the State who are thereafter abused and harassed using the police and other wings of State authority.

“Political intolerance and violence has become the order of the day contrary to the spirit of peace and unity that Zambia is renowned for,” they said.

They described their formation an alliance of like-minded political parties.

The 10 parties have agreed to work together on the restoration of rule of law; fundamental human rights, liberties and freedoms such as freedom of association, assembly, movement, the right to peaceful demonstration, worship, conscience, including individuals’ right to freely express themselves in speech, conduct, dress or howsoever otherwise.

The alliance would work to end political violence; restore good governance; end corruption, abuse of the public order Act; electoral reforms through amendment to retrogressive laws and through the establishment of a truly independent electoral commission capable of delivering free and fair elections.

The group aims to push for media reforms; judicial reforms and with them the release of political detainees, refugees and a general amnesty for political fugitives; constitutional reforms; citizens participation in national development, especially women and youths; and employment creation for and poverty reduction alongside the need to drive accelerated economic development, fairness and equity in the distribution of resources.

“We must hasten to add that our agreement to work together does not entail that there is a merger of the 10 political parties, as that would in itself be contrary to the democratic tenets in which we believe. Our collaboration is a clear demonstration that in a properly functioning democracy, we can co-exist while being individual, vibrant political parties with our own ideologies.”

The leaders said unlike the ruling party whose aim was to stifle any form of dissenting views, “we believe that diversity is the lifeblood of democracy and so we have chosen to act in unity while at the same time recognising our diversity.”

“It is our firm belief that in this way, we can more effectively serve you our fellow citizens of this beautiful land called Zambia,” they said.

On the Constitutional Court judgment on President Edgar Lungu’s eligibility in 2021, the leaders said democracy in Zambia was under threat.

 

They said from 1973 when the Chona Constitutional Review Commission was commissioned, it was recognised that for democracy to thrive, and in turn to avoid the creation of a dictatorship, one of the most important requirements was to limit the term of years that a person could be permitted to serve as President of Zambia.

 

“Through that Commission, the people spoke, although they were ignored, and as a result it was recommended that a President be permitted to serve no more than two consecutive five-year terms. The result of ignoring the Chona recommendations was that Zambia ended up being under the rule of one President for 27 years,” they stated.

 

“In 1991 we said no to that situation and brought back multiparty politics. With it, the people reaffirmed their intent never to have any one person to serve as President for more than 10 years. In 2001, President [Frederick] Chiluba, tested the resolve of the people of Zambia without success as, in the true spirit of democracy, the people made it clear that there would be NO THIRD TERM for president Chiluba or anyone else. Our democracy thus thrived and became the pride of Africa.”

 

They noted that the Wila Mun’gomba Commission draft constitution cast the will of the people in stone on the issue of tenure of office of the President.

 

The leaders said Article 137 of the Mun’gomba draft stated that a Presidential term was to be 5 years and that “a person who has twice been elected as President was not eligible for election to that office for a third or other subsequent term” thereby clearly reflecting the consistent will of Zambians that no one was entitled to hold the office of President for more than 10 years or more.

“Needless to say, when enacting the Constitutional Amendments of 2016, the PF chose to ignore the Mun’gomba draft constitution, and other progressive provisions that had previously been suggested, in preference for the current Article 106 which was the subject of the Judgment of the Constitutional Court given on 7th December 2018 (“the Judgment”), a day which will go down as one of the darkest days in the history of our beloved country,” they said.

 

The leaders recalled shortly after the 2016 general election, President Lungu declared his intention to stand for reelection in 2021.

They noted that promptly thereafter, “four surrogates” led by Christian Democratic Party’s Dan Pule approached the Constitutional Court to endorse that intention and, together with the Attorney General, put forward the unlikely argument that President Lungu was eligible to stand.

They also recalled President Lungu warning of chaos if the ConCourt ruled against him.

 

“In his classic style, Mr Lungu abrogated the Constitution in so far as it guarantees the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary under Article 122, and the entire Judiciary has remained mute over that violation to date,” they said. “Can citizens therefore be blamed for questioning the judiciary as a whole and in particular the ability of the Constitutional Court to render a fair judgment? Suffice to say that it was self-evident from the hordes of Jubilant PF cadres that went to court on Friday 7th December 2018 that they knew the outcome of the case well in advance. Zambia Police were equally very cooperative on the day and conveniently forgot to apply the public order Act the way they do when other citizens wish to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.”

The leaders said whilst the outcome did not come as a surprise to many, the approach used by the Court to arrive at it baffled many legal minds as the Court appeared to depart from the usual practice of Courts when adjudicating upon matters before them.

 

“In Zambia, we have an adversarial system in which the court is, or ought to be, neutral and leave the parties to put forward the questions they want determined and their arguments for and against those questions,” the argued.

“In the present case, the Court, in its final judgment completely rephrased the question for determination before it without affording the parties an opportunity to argue their cases from the perspective of the question as reframed by the court, thereby placing them at a disadvantage.”

 

The opposition said Zambians were left wondering why the ConCourt took the path it did in a case of such magnitude with far reaching effect.

 

“We are left wondering how it can be that Mr Lungu never held office from January 2015 to September 2016, despite executing all the functions of President and enjoying all the benefits and emoluments of that office. How can it be that he was President but did not hold office as President at the same time, in seeming defiance of logic?” they asked.

 

“It is evident from the state of the law as it stands today that by enacting the Constitutional amendments of 2016, the PF put into motion a well-orchestrated plan to hijack Zambia’s much cherished democracy, using an amended Constitution which was designed with flaws and hidden agendas to suit the PF.”

 

They leaders said for the first time in the history of Zambia, and contrary to the will of the people a court had legalised the holding by a person of a third term.

 

“Whether or not Mr Lungu’s initial term is deemed not to have been a full, qualifying term under the court’s interpretation of the law, the reality is that he served as President for the period of that term, was paid his emoluments as such and was sworn in again on 13th September 2016 for his current term,” they stressed. “The judgment opens the door for him to do so again; for him to have a third stint in office, contrary to the resolve of Zambians in 1991 and 2001 when we said clearly NO THIRD TERM.  The power is in our hands fellow citizens to say once again, but this time to Mr Lungu and the PF, NO THIRD TERM, we shall not allow it!”

 

They said in the same spirit of the Zambian people, “we shall not allow any single person to hold office for more than 10 years as this opens the door for despotism.”

“Examples are plenty in Africa where the Constitution is manipulated so as to allow dictators to extend their rule and this is what we are seeing today,” they said.

“It will begin with a one year six month’s extension, then another extension of 2 years and 11 months, and so on until Mr Lungu is in office in perpetuity. Zambians must not allow this and the power is in our hands to say no to more than 10 year’s rule by anyone! As a matter of law and fact, by holding that a term of less than three years cannot be deemed a qualifying term for purposes of eligibility to stand for election as President, the Constitutional Court has created a dangerous precedent and a Constitutional crisis given the provisions of Article 81(4) to (9) of the Constitution which allow the President to, upon reference to (no other than) the Constitutional Court, dissolve Parliament at any time during his tenure, resulting in the holding of fresh general elections within 90 days thereafter.

“As things stand therefore, and with the current perception around the Constitutional Court, there is a very real danger that before the lapse of this and any future term of office that Mr Lungu, or indeed any subsequent President, may hold he can perpetuate his stay in office by dissolving Parliament before the lapse of three years and will be eligible to stand again as the time already served will not qualify as a full term for purposes of disqualifying him from eligibility.”

They said the Constitutional crisis that now exists was an assault on democracy of the worst kind as it brings back the “wamuyayaya [lifetime] formula that we Zambians rejected in 1991. We urge you to reject it once again!”

 

“It is clear that this situation is part of Mr Lungu’s elaborate plan to kill democracy in Zambia as he has said time and time again that he would sacrifice democracy,” they said. “Zambia is bigger than one man and his friends and, collectively as citizens, we must put a stop to it.”

The leaders said time had come for all Zambians to unite against those that wish “to kill our hard earned democracy and to protect our Constitution as we swore to do in the preamble to the same Constitution in which we committed to upholding the principles of democracy and good governance.”

 

“We collectively owe our beloved motherland and ourselves the right and duty to defend the Constitution and to resist or prevent any person from overthrowing, suspending or illegally abrogating the Constitution and our rights as enshrined therein,” the stressed.

“It is not about Banda, Chanda, Chipimo, Hakainde, Kambwili, Lukuku, Milupi, Mulongoti, Siwale, Tembo or the opposition as a whole but about the people of Zambia, our children and their children.”

 

They urged Zambians to exercise their democratic right to demonstrate lawfully and peacefully for the re-amendment of the Constitution, for a return to the rule of law, for an end to the abuse of the public order Act, for the restoration of fundamental human rights, civil liberties and freedoms and for an end to the abuse of institutions of the State.

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