Map of Zambia
Map of Zambia

Zambia’s main opposition leader, Michael Sata, said a proposed constitutional amendment requiring all presidential candidates to have their first university degree is discriminatory.

A National Constitutional Conference currently underway has adopted a clause requiring presidential candidates to have their first degrees from a recognized university.

Sata, who is leader of the Patriotic Front party, said the degree clause is tantamount to turning the presidency into an exclusive club for a privileged few.

“First of all, all over the world, in the Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries, there is nowhere where there is a constitution which prescribes a degree for any of their presidential candidates. So this is most unfortunate for our country,” he said.

Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata
Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata

Sata said the Zambian government was paying members of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) more money than cabinet ministers. As such, he said the NCC members had no choice but to say yes to whatever the government suggested to them.

He said the degree clause, which has yet to be approved by parliament, would have no effect on him as a candidate for the 2011 presidential election.

“First of all, when they were proposing, they wanted to put age restriction. They wanted to say anybody who is over 65 years cannot stand as president. Now when (President) Levy Mwanawasa died, the man who came, Rupiah Banda is older than me. So now they are only down to degree. They thought they would stop me, but I’m far more ahead of them. So that degree doesn’t stand in my way,” Sata said.

Former information minister and ruling party spokesman Mike Mulongoti says the degree obligation adds value to the office of the president.

“We have agreed as a people to set up a constitutional conference and look at how we can reform our constitution as a way of also adding value to leadership. In this time and era it’s not possible for a person who is illiterate to lead the country because there are so many challenges, and I don’t its right to allow people who have no qualification,” he said.

Mulongoti said the speaker of the national assembly and the chief justice in Zambia are required to have a degree. Therefore, he said it makes no sense for the presidency, the highest job in the country to have no degree requirement.

Sata said U.S. President Barack Obama could not have been elected president if the United States had a constitutional requirement that only whites can run for president.