A coalition of non-governmental organizations, churches, and students staged a protest march Thursday through central Lusaka to contest a proposal that seeks to influence the mode of adopting Zambia’s newly drafted constitution. One proposition, spearheaded by the Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID), says the new charter should be presented to parliament for enactment. But the protesters want the constitution to be ratified by a constituent assembly. In a petition to supportive members of parliament, the protesters blamed President Levy Mwanawasa’s government for reneging on its promise to offer Zambians a people-driven constitution.
The Reverend Susan Matale was a major participant in Thursday’s protest march. From the capital, Lusaka she tells VOA English to Africa Service reporter Peter Clottey activists don’t want the constitutional process to be hijacked by President Mwanawasa’s government.
“Civil society picketed parliament to try and put pressure on them so that they might be able to respond to the wishes of the people in the constitution making process. As you know, we have been going through this process for the last four years. Our president had created a body called the constitution review commission who had gone around the nation collecting views of the people, what kind of constitution they want,” Matale said.
She said the public wants the constitution to be adopted through a constituent assembly, which in her words the government has failed to do.
“One of the terms of references was for the commission to inquire from the people how they wanted this constitution to be adopted, and therefore, the CRC went ahead and made the recommendations in the draft constitution that this time around the constitution should be adopted through a constituent assembly, where people of Zambia from all walks of life participate in drafting the draft constitution. And then, this constitution should go to the people through a referendum. And then finally, into parliament for enactment,” she pointed out.
Matale insists that Zambians will not settle for anything less that a people- driven constitution.
“First of all, you would understand that the constitution-making process is a process which should be led by people. We want a people-driven process. And we sincerely believe that this cannot be a political process. Politicians have made what they called the Zambia Interparty Dialogue. But we are saying they are just stakeholders like everybody else. And we don’t want politicians to take lead because they have always done that. And at the end of the day the constitution we have gotten is not a constitution that Zambians would call their own because in our constitution, the people are supreme. And we are saying people must drive this process and not the politicians,” Matale said.
She said Thursday’s protest is one of a series of awareness creation events that would intensify in the future.
“Let me mention that it is just one of the activities that civil society have been doing. From last moth we had launched a red campaign, so that the people of Zambia can put pressure on the government to listen to the voice of the people on the adoption mode of the constitution. So what we did today, actually is just one of those activities that we are carrying out to try and persuade the powers that be to do the right thing. And the right things as far as we are concerned are to do and to implement what the constitution commission has recommended. And that is a CA, which is a constituent assembly, to be created where people can debate the draft constitution. And finally, this draft constitution should go back to the people through a referendum, and then to parliament,” she said.