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Is the Constitution a campaign issue?

[By Simon Kalolo Kabanda]

On Tuesday 5 January 2016, the President of the Republic of Zambia assented to the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, giving effect to the 2016 amended Constitution.

However, barely 10 months after assenting to the Constitution, precisely on 9 November 2016, a motion was introduced in Parliament, calling for amendments to the 2016 amended Constitution.

This action was an indication that something had gone wrong on 5 January 2016. While the draft Constitution of the Technical Committee on Drafting the Zambian Constitution (TCDZC) was supposed to have been subjected to a National Referendum in its entirety, government decided to take a short cut and removed certain provisions from the draft Constitution and gave the people of Zambia an incomplete Constitution. The amended Constitution, which was assented to on 5 January 2016, is therefore not a complete document.

Towards the 2011 elections, the Constitution and its making process had been one of the top campaign issues of the opposition Patriotic Front (PF). The PF had promised to deliver a new Constitution to the people of Zambia within 90 days of assuming power. “The PF and Michael Sata ascended to power with the issue of the Constitution playing a decisive role in the election” (Eric Robinson and Grace Seo, Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, 19 August 2013).

However, eight months to the expiry of the first term of the PF in government, and realising that the 90-day promise of giving the people of Zambia a new Constitution had not been fulfilled, government decided to get the Constitution out of the way of becoming an election campaign issue. This was what led to the assent to the Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2016, on 5 January 2016, giving effect to the 2016 Amended Constitution.

But then there was already a hidden agenda of coming to remove a number of provisions which were not politically expedient, once re-elected in the 2016 Presidential and General Elections.

The hidden agenda was hatched on 9 November 2016, slightly over two months after the 2016 elections. A motion was moved in Parliament by a PF backbencher for Mwansabombwe Constituency, the late honourable Rogers Mwewa (MHSRIEP), seeking specific amendments to the incomplete 2016 amended Constitution. This motion was what later culminated into the controversial Constitution Amendment Bill No. 10 of 2019.

As things stand now, the Constitution is still a campaign issue in the 2021 elections. As we have less than four weeks to the 12 August elections, the PF government should be held accountable for giving the people of Zambia an incomplete Constitution on 5 January 2016. What went wrong on that day should be corrected immediately after the 12 August elections.

If you have any question or issue regarding the Constitution and/or related matters that you would like this column to discuss, kindly send a message to me either through SMS, WhatsApp: +260-761-206353, or email: shimwenya@yahoo.com.

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