A Roman Catholic priest in Zambia called for a constitutional amendment that would compel all future presidential candidates to undergo rigorous medical checkups with the results made public, in a bid to determine their mental and physical health fitness ahead of any future general election.
Father Frank Bwalya, who heads the opposition party the Alliance for Better Zambia, said the current constitution is discriminatory, arguing that police and army officers are required to be both physically and mentally fit before they are hired.
“If you want to become a police officer, an army officer you have to go for a medical test... They make you run [and] they make you undertake rigorous physical exercises in order to establish your physical health,” said Bwalya. “To be a police officer it is less tasking compared to the job of a republican president. So I have been telling Zambian people… there is something wrong here.”
Bwalya, however, said there is no constitutional provision that requires politicians who aspire to be president to undergo medical tests to determine their health fitness to do the job.
“In the constitution, there is nothing about what kind of criteria such a person should meet in order to qualify to stand as a republican president. And yet almost everyone else who wants to get a job in this country goes for a medical test,” said Bwalya. “It is discrimination, and why should we treat him [president] like a God when he is not? He is just an ordinary being like us and because they are human then can die in office.”
Bwalya said former Zambian leader Patrick Levy Mwanawasa, who died in office, shouldn’t have become the country’s leader since his reported poor health seemed to have worsened due to the stress associated with the of the office of the president.
“Already we have had a situation where a sitting president died from illness. A president who shouldn’t have stood in 2006, he shouldn’t have stood, but went ahead and stood and died in office,” said Bwalya.
Supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front party condemned Bwalya’s pronouncement, saying his call aimed at embarrasing President Michael Sata and to make him unpopular ahead of the next elections. There have media reports alleging Sata’s poor health, which the government denied. Ruling party supporters say opposition groups shouldn’t play politics with the president’s alleged ill health.
Bwalya denied playing politics with the president’s health.
“We should not suspend doing something good, because we would be misunderstood to be targeting somebody. No, this is something beyond the man who is there. Besides, if we put in the constitution of this provision, it will not affect him, because he is already president,” said Bwalya.