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Zambia Government Promises Citizens New Constitution

FILE - Zambia President Edgar Lungu, pictured in January 2015, has vowed to sign the bill giving Zambians a new constitution, a government spokesman says.

Zambia's information minister says President Edgar Lungu will soon sign the amendment bill recently passed by parliament that will give Zambians a new constitution following months of public pressure.

Lungu and his ruling Patriotic Front party have the political will to ensure that Zambians get a new constitution, said government spokesman Chishimba Kambwili.

His comments came after local media reports said Lungu has deferred signing the bill until January after he allegedly received a petition from former vice president and opposition Heritage Party leader Godfrey Miyanda.

But in an interview with VOA, Kambwili dismissed the media reports as being without merit and a calculated attempt to undermine the government.

"The president has not deferred the signing of the constitution bill into law,” Kambwili said. “It is just that there [is a] procedure to be followed. For the bill to go to the president, they have to prepare a document which should be in a [government] gazette, and there are numbers prescribed by law for that procedure to be completed. So it's just a question of procedure, and as soon as the procedure is adhered to, the president would assent to the constitution bill."

More than simple majority

The proposed bill has a measure that requires a candidate to win more than 50 percent of the total vote cast in order to be declared winner of a presidential poll.

Opposition and civil society groups have said the ruling party and the government lack the political will to ensure Zambians get a "people driven" constitution ahead of next year's general election.

They contend that the government is delaying the entire process because it is unlikely to attain the more than 50 percent threshold required in the proposed constitution to win the election.

Some opposition parties have floated the idea of an alliance to defeat the ruling party in the next election. The opposition parties say their moves appear to have spooked Lungu into delaying the signing of the bill into law.

Giving people ‘their voice’

Government spokesman Kambwili disagrees.

"There may be challenges here and there because of the 50 plus one, because it is a new phenomenon in Zambia,” he said. “But that should not deter a government that has political will to give the people of Zambia the 50 plus one which they so wanted and wished for.

“We've demonstrated as Patriotic Front government we want to give the people of Zambia their voice. … And whatever it takes, we are prepared to go with it. We can only encourage political parties including ourselves to work very hard to convince the people through policy, through action, that indeed we mean well and that we can garner the 50 plus one."