Zambia’s new constitution near completion
Lusaka – Zambian stakeholders may finally approve the drafting of the Constitution, which has been reviewed several times since the country’s independence in 1964.
For months on end, Zambians have been debating the outcome of the final copy of the Constitution.
The laborious exercise, which embraced divergent views, finally ended last week.
Among various contentious issues debated and pushed for adoption in June 2013 is the 50-percent-plus-one majority voting system.
Other proposals are that a president voted into office must have a majority vote, as opposed to the current first-past-the post, in which a candidate wins by a narrow margin – making presidents “not popularly elected by the people”.
According to Zambia’s election history dating back to the time of independence, chiefly that of the mid-1990s and early 2000s, some key players in the electoral process felt the incumbent usually stood a better chance of winning the elections either through the use of government machinery or ‘doctoring’ or manipulating the electoral process.
Ostensibly, delegates that assembled and debated the constitution in Lusaka unanimously resolved to retain clause 75(1) on the 50-plus-one-majority vote for presidential candidates.
Under the law, article 75(1) in the draft constitution states: “Elections to the office of President shall be conducted directly on the basis of a majoritarian system where the winning candidates must receive not less than 50-percent plus one vote of the valid votes cast and in accordance with Article 99.”
Delegates to the constitution convention supported the 50+1 percent majority vote for a winner arguing that it will give credence to the would-be president as he will be assumed to have a majority representation of the people who voted for him before ascending to office for a five-year term.
The executive director of democracy advocate group, Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), Macdonald Chipenzi support the idea of 50-percent-plus-one system saying it must be adopted for the sake of “prosperity”.
He says the voting system is also critical in unifying the nation, as the president will have the majority vote and confidence of the people.
“But we must be prepared to pay a heavy price, we must be aware that it will be the most expensive and I support it for the sake of prosperity,” Chipenzi said
Father Frank Bwalya, a former director of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Zambia Chapter), said the system must be adopted despite some concerns and disadvantages, as it will help Zambia move forward unlike before.
“I support the 50-plus-one clause and I take concerns that others have raised but there is no clause that does not have disadvantages,” Bwalya, who is also a clergyman, added.
Other delegates added that the system is important because it does not leave doubt and suspicions about who emerges victor in the presidential election, as some parties in the past have won elections by 20 to 30 percent of the total votes.
The delegates further proposed that the provisions be made to “insulate” the Article from “manipulation”.
Antonio Mwanza, a former University of Zambia students’ leader, said the 50-plus-one voting system is widely accepted and used in many countries as opposed to the current first-past-the-post.
However, some had opposing views over the proposal. Ronald Chitotela, an opposition lawmaker for Pambashe Patriotic Front has opposed the clause, saying the system would not accurately represent the views of the majority Zambians in the current situation.
Chitotela noted that in view of the country’s population of over 13 million against the number of registered voters of more than five million.
“We have a population of about 14 million people, and we have over five million registered voters but if three million people vote and one wins by over 1.5 million votes, would we say this is a majority vote?” he wanted to know.
During the deliberations, delegates to the convention rejected proposals from nine provinces earlier made to continue with the current voting system of Members of Parliament.
They instead proposed to adopt the multi-member representation (MMR) system.
The MMR is a hybrid of electoral systems consisting of first-past-the-post and proportional representation. It is aimed at curing some deficiencies created by one electoral system.
On financing and accountability in political parties, delegates unanimously adopted Article 88 (g) for Parliament to enact legislation to compel political parties to avail their source of funding.
The delegates have also proposed an amendment in clause (h), stating: “Parliament shall enact legislation to provide for restrictions on use of public resources to promote interests of political parties and their candidates.”
Clause (i) of Article 88 states: “Parliament shall enact legislation to provide for any other matter necessary for management and legislation and regulation of political parties in a multi-party democracy.”
FODEP, which also monitors elections, has argued that funding political parties is key to enhancing democracy.
“Funding of political parties is not a new phenomenon because several political parties across the world are funded and this can help our political parties to foster democracy and multi-partism,” Chipenzi said
Eddie Chombani from Anti-Voters Apathy (AVAP), said funding will help parties establish properly and compete favourably.
Chombani said this is key to championing and growing democracy in the country.
MMD chairperson for Women Affairs, Faustina Sinyangwe, also supported the clause saying funding is essential to empowering political parties with inadequate financial capacity.
United Party for National Development (UPND) secretary general Winston Chibwe and Forum for Democracy and Development representative Antonio Mwanza also supported the funding clause.
In supporting the clause, Mwanza said there is need to strengthen systems and modalities of funding to promote transparency and ensure recipients channel funds towards intended purposes.
But Solicitor General Musa Mwenya argued that funding political parties cannot promote patriotism among members.
Mwenya believe that the move can result in MPs to continuously press for funding from Parliament.
He said this could also possibly lead to the proliferation of political parties in the hope of benefiting from the funding.
Clauses (e) and (f) have been retained for accounts and auditing of political parties which are funded under the political parties’ fund and the submission of audited accounts as may be prescribed by an Act of Parliament.
The delegates also proposed that commissioners at the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) must be part-timers, citing high costs in wages and allowances if they are on full-time.
Article 83 (6) states: “The President shall appoint the members of ECZ, on the recommendations of a committee established under an Act of Parliament, subject to ratification by the National Assembly.”
The proposals made by the delegates are expected to be given due consideration and effectively reflect what is expected to be enshrined in the much-anticipated constitution to stand the test of time and bring about electoral reforms.
According to the constitution making time line, the final draft copy will be presented to President Michael Sata and his Cabinet before it is presented to the 155-member parliament for final adoption.
Zambia has to date spent more than US$14 million in the process, a cry most Zambians would like to see an end to save national resources.
The constitution has been under review since 1964 when the country gained independence from Britain.
In 1968, it was revised to bring other reforms to the constitution, before it was later reviewed in 1973 to give way to a one party participatory state under the Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP), which ostensibly banned any other opposition groupings in the country.
In 1978, and later in the 1980s, the constitution was altered. It was again altered in 1990 to allow for the return to multiparty politics, which saw the then ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and other opposition resurfacing to bring democratic elections in 1991 that saw Kaunda losing power to them President Frederick Chiluba.
In 1996, Chiluba revised the constitution, which barred Kaunda from contesting the elections based on a parentage clause.
Kaunda’s parents came from Malawi in 1901, then Nyasaland as missionaries and settled in Chinsali at Lubwa mission in northern Zambia.
Kaunda was born at Lubwa on April 28, 1924.
He was disqualified in 1996 to re-contest the poll under the theme “second liberation” on the basis on his parents being Zambians by descent and not by birth, though he was born and grew up in Zambia.</p>