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Zambia MPs to Begin Debate on Constitution

  • Peter Clottey

FILE - The presidium of the Zambian parliament in Lusaka is seen in a Feb. 24, 2012, photo.

FILE - The presidium of the Zambian parliament in Lusaka is seen in a Feb. 24, 2012, photo.

Zambia’s parliament will soon begin debating proposed sweeping new constitutional changes that would include the election of a vice president.

Justice Minister Ngosa Simbyakula, who presented the constitution amendment bill, says it seeks about 20 revisions in the current constitution, including qualifications for high office including citizenship, dual citizenship, and modes of acquiring Zambian citizenship. It also focuses on provincial assemblies, establishing their functions, composition and procedures.

Simbyakula says the bill seeks to establish a court of appeal and constitutional court as well as revise the jurisdiction of the superior courts.

Chifumu Banda, deputy chairman of the committees in parliament says the constitutional bill will be referred to the legal affairs committee for initial deliberation.

Demands for Bill of rights

But Lewis Mwape, the executive secretary of Zambia’s Civil Society Consortium, says his group is sharply against the constitutional bill in its current state. He says Zambians want an expanded bill of rights which has been left out of the current proposed bill.

“[We think] that the first thing that can include the people participation is a referendum, and we want the referendum to be [held] before the 2016 general election, because we wanted certain progressive provisions for example the Bill of rights to be expanded…, [a] Bill of rights that can guarantee people protection in terms of economic and social justice,” Mwape said.

Supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party dismissed the criticisms saying Zambian citizens were widely consulted before the proposed constitution bill was compiled and presented to parliament. They added that the process has resulted in a people-driven constitution that citizens had been demanding.

Strong-arming expected

Mwape says his organization is concerned that the ruling PF party will use its parliamentary majority to ensure that government-favored provisions will go through despite opposition from a cross section of the population.

The government denied this.

“Our contention is that our parliament at the moment is not capable of carrying out the voices of the people. That is why we want the people themselves to vote and adopt that constitution,” said Mwape.

Before his death, President Michael Sata established a technical committee to draft a new charter, with submissions from the public. This came shortly after winning the 2011 presidential election with the promise to give Zambians a “people driven” constitution.

On December 2011, the committee began its work to draft the proposed constitution, which the current justice minister recently presented to parliament after several months delay.