Constitutional debate rages on in Zambia

Civil society, backed by the Church, is pointing fingers at the government, accusing it of trying to delay the process.

The interest groups say that the constitution’s roadmap should not be left to the government.

The Southern African Centre for Conflict Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) alleges that the government’s perceived reluctance to expedite the process would frustrate people’s desires to enact a lasting constitution.

SACCORD executive director Lee Habasonde said the government should, without delay, facilitate people’s wish to amend the constitution and ensure the separation of powers that has seen the executive override the legislature and judiciary.

“The government should not dictate terms. People have demanded a new constitution that will reduce the powers of the president to avert interferences in the judiciary and the legislature and this they want it done immediately,” he said.

The Foundation for the Democratic Process (FODEP) said it was disappointed at the government’s reluctance to expedite the constitution-making process even after people have stated what they want and when it should be done.

"People have been clear in their voices. They want the constitution amended and enacted by themselves through a constituent assembly now,” said FODEP secretary Stanley Mhango.

The Oasis Forum, a loose alliance of churches, lawyers, clergy and other interest groups, said it was disappointed at the government’s alleged reluctance to heed the citizens.

It has plans to relaunch its countrywide campaign to press the government to enact the constitution through the constituent assembly before 2009.

Chief government spokesperson Vernon Mwaanga recently stated that the government was committed to drafting a new constitution as demanded by the people but that it would not be rushed into the undertaking this without adequate resources.

Mwaanga said various procedures had to be followed before effectively ratification of the constitution before the 2011 elections.

President Levy Mwanawasa recently urged people lobbying for hasty enactment of the constitution to wait for the government’s roadmap, noting that resources needed to be mobilised to ensure it was done to the satisfaction of all players.

“I pledge and do hereby commit myself and my government, except as impeded by law or by lack of resources, to uphold the will and aspirations of our people through their submission to the Constitution Review Commission and to implement the recommendations of the Constitution Review Commission as representing the broadest views of our people,” Mwanawasa said when he swore in members of the Constitution Review Commission in 2003.

“We cannot let the Zambian people down again.”

Mwanawasa acknowledged the constituent assembly as the people’s preferred mode of adopting the document.

“I have said many a times that I too prefer the adoption of the constitution through a constituent assembly,” he said.

The Zambian constitution has been amended on four occasions since independence. In 1964 it was altered to transfer authority from colonial Britain, followed by another change in 1968. In 1973, the constitution was amended to reflect the adoption of a one-party state.

It was again altered in 1983, and 1991 to usher in a multi-party system of government under the leadership of Frederick Chiluba.

In 1996, Chiluba changed the constitution by incorporating of a parentage clause.

December 2006
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