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Zambia's Main Opposition Criticizes Constitution Conference

Deliberations continue today at the Zambian National Constitution Conference in Lusaka. Delegates are considering proposals, including the powers of the presidency, whether Zambia should continue to be called a Christian nation and whether it should retain the death penalty. President Levy Mwanawasa called on the delegates yesterday to exercise responsibility, objectivity, and patriotism in their deliberations.

But some segments of the society, including opposition political parties, civil society and the church are criticizing the conference as a reckless and exorbitant use of taxpayers’ money.

Guy Scott is vice president of the Patriotic Front Party, Zambia’s largest opposition. He told VOA his party is not participating in the conference because of several concerns.

“The most important probably concerns the representation. The conference is very heavily loaded in favor of the ruling party and the government and it neglects very important categories such as the churches who get very small representation. We don’t want to be party to an arrangement were the politicians are all one side and the other leaders of the community are all on one side,” he said.

Scott said the Patriotic Front Party decided to side with the church in boycott the Constitution Conference because of the issue of representation.

“The problem is if they were to give Voice of America one vote in a constitutional conference in the United States where there were 500 votes, would Voice of America attend, or would it say hold on a second may be we should protest? We should try and put pressure before we go. Simply we would be regarded as legitimizing, or taking pressure off the ruling elite rather than contributing constructively,” Scott said.

He said the huge amount spent on the Constitution Conference could have been best spent on poverty projects.

“The amount of money that is being paid to each delegate is about $350 a day is in excess of the annual per capital GDP of Zambia,” he said.

Scott said the government stacked the constitution conference to favor the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy.

“I hate to say that the powers that be which includes President Mwanawasa, but of course that includes his advisors known and unknown set this thing up to make sure they had control of the outcome, and anybody else is there to applaud,” Scott said.

He accused the government of injecting a last minute requirement on age limit for would-be presidential candidates.

“Our and the fear of most rational people is that this is yet another kind of gerrymandering exercise to make sure that, although they do not really control the country in terms of numbers, they can call the shots,” he said.

Scott described as not particularly a controversial the issues of whether Zambia should continue to be called a Christian nation and whether it should retain the death penalty that he said most people would be willing to compromise on. Instead he said the really controversial issue concerns the powers of the presidency.

“At the moment in Zambia we have a situation in which the president, whom you might as well call the big man because he has all the constitutional powers, appoints the chief justice, through patronage he controls parliament, through appointments he controls the executive. We are a country that is not very far removed from one-party state,” Scott said.

He said the opposition National Patriotic Party would like to see limits placed on the powers of Zambian presidents.

“We would like to see an independent judiciary which, whether covertly or covertly was able to stand up the executive. We would like to see parliament with more power to scrutinize deals done by the executive,” Scott said.