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Africa

Zambians push government to enact new constitution

Zambia has long struggled to come up with a constitution that is acceptable by all parties. Citizens are now demanding a 'people driven' document but the government seems reluctant.

The constitution has always been a controversial topic in Zambia. Since attaining independence in 1964, four attempts by different presidents have been made to change the constitution but little has so far been achieved.

After winning elections in 2011, the current government of President Michael Sata appointed a technical committee to draft a new charter, with submissions from the public.

The committee began its work on December 2011. Initially the government showed all the signs of being committed to deliver a good constitution to the Zambians.

President Sata talking to reporters.

President Sata promised Zambians a new constitution in ninety days.

One example was when the committee requested for a 30 day extension after the deadline to hand over the final draft to the President expired, the government rejected and said the committee had been given enough time to do their job.

But now that the committee has finished its work, government seems to be delaying the continuation of the process. This has angered many citizens who are now demanding for a speeding up of the process.

Government clamp down

Anyone who demands for the implementation of a new constitution faces sharp reactions from the government machinery.

Recently, 42 youths from an organization called ActionAid were arrested for wearing T-shirts that bore messages demanding for a new constitution. Some of the messages on the T-shirts read "Give us a constitution now". They were charged with "conduct likely to cause the breach of peace" but were later released. Zambia's Vice president Guy Scott was the guest of honor during the event.

Pamela Chisanga the Executive Director of ActionAid in Zambia decried the way the police mishandled the young people."They were thrown in cells with other suspects, " Chisanga said. "Some of them were beaten and forced to take off their T-shirts. Even young girls who did not have any appropriate clothing under the T-shirts were equally made to remove them," Chisanga added.

The Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), an organization that advocates for good governance in Zambia said the government had turned the police force into a political tool to silence critics and those calling for change in the constitution. FODEP's Executive Director Macdonald Chipenzi said the Zambian government was most probably trying to shield incumbent President Michael Sata. "They feel that this (draft) constitution may eliminate the current president from contesting because he is over seventy five years," Chipenzi noted.

Less executive powers

According to Chipenzi the ruling Patriotic Front party is unhappy with clauses proposed in the draft like the fifty percent plus one vote threshold during elections, the vice president to be a presidential running mate and the appointing of ministers from outside parliament which is aimed at making the legislature independent of the executive.

President Michael Sata has on several occasions said that some people are always demanding for a people driven constitution when Zambia already had a valid constitution.

A man pushing a bicycle loaded with fire wood.

Many Zambians struggle to earn a living.

He has challenged those pushing for the enactment of a new people driven constitution to state whether they have ever seen an animal driven constitution.

In President Sata's opinion the current Constitution simply requires amendments.

Opposition lawmakers recently boycotted parliamentary sessions in protest against the government's lack of commitment to the constitutional review process. "The ruling party's contradictory statements actually got us anxious," Garry Nkombo, an opposition lawmaker said.

Poverty reduction first

The government has sought to defend itself against accusations it was not moving fast enough. Vice President Guy Scott said that enacting a new constitution will not automatically solve all of Zambia's problems.

Justice Minister Winter Kabimba said the government would rather concentrate on reducing poverty.

Former Zambian president Michael Sata.

Former president Rupiah Banda had his immunity removed by Sata's government

He argued that the Zambian people did not only elect it on the basis of enacting a new constitution but to uplift the living standards.

Opposition political parties and civil society organizations are now planning a mass demonstration to pressure government to enact a new constitution. Opposition politician Garry Nkombo said they were forced to engage the public after failing to convince the government in parliament. "We have handed over the fight to the public. It's up to the public to know what they want to do," Nkombo said.

It is now over 20 years since Zambia started making attempts to come up with a so called "people driven" constitution.

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