NAREP president Elias Chipimo says it is not possible for President Edgar Lungu to run for office again in 2021 based on a proper constitutional interpretation.
And Chipimo has commended the Law Association of Zambia for being brave, noting that those criticizing the association had failed to pinpoint their problem with the association’s statement on President Lungu’s threats.
Speaking when he featured on Muvi TV’s The Assignment programme yesterday, Chipimo said the Constitution was clear that anyone who had twice held office could not run again.
“The argument for Edgar Lungu standing again is that look, he was just finishing off that term when Mr Sata died. So, it wasn’t really a full term. So, really his first term starts when he was himself genuinely elected, not on the basis of fulfilling the uncompleted term of Michael Sata. Now, the argument is that it was an incomplete term. [But] the problem with that argument and this is the fatal aspect of this whole thing…the provision in the Constitution doesn’t say a person who has served two terms [but] it says a person who has twice held office,” Chipimo said.
“You see, if I’m elected today and then after three months I resign or I’m impeached or I die, I have held office. I may not have served a term but I held office and the restriction is not about a person who has served two terms – the restriction is very clear [and] it says a person who has held office. It does not matter the duration; it doesn’t matter whether it was two days, three months, 18 months, absolutely it doesn’t matter. They (PF functionaries) have finally come to a realisation that this is the interpretation that seems the most sensible one when you just look at what the law says.”
He said the terminology of the Constitution was very important.
“It is not about a term but it is about ‘held office’ and those are two very distinct issues within the Constitution. Therefore, those arguing that President Lungu is eligible are really arguing from no legal basis and it is not possible, on a proper interpretation of this Constitution, for him to run again in 2021,” Chipimo insisted.
He also urged citizens to be alert because the PF could push to amend the Constitution just to keep President Lungu in power.
“One of the things that I always like to do is to think about different options and scenarios and I think that one thing that most people haven’t yet started to talk about but they will start to talk about it, it’s just a matter of time; we have to watch the PF very carefully because they are not sitting around just waiting for a chance to see whether or not the President may or may not be accepted. Strategy one was to throw out all these satellite PF parties and get them to bring a case before the Constitutional Court and see how they can sort out this matter in advance. Strategy two was to get the President involved because, for some reason, they might have picked some information that maybe this thing may not go in the way in which they are hoping. Strategy three which may have always been in the background is ‘can we find a way to amend the Constitution cleverly to clear up this problem’ and this is where the vigilance is required from every single one of us. It is possible [to amend the Constitution] because they have the numbers in Parliament that they could try and slip through an amendment which clears this up and changes those provisions I’m talking about of holding office and serving a term,” Chipimo said.
“But the one strategy that you may find does not work in your favour is one which relies on people feeling as though they’ve been manipulated in order to just help one man stay in power and we saw this with the third term. I believe that we’ll see this again should there be any attempt to undermine the democratic will of the people by getting Parliament, through the majority numbers, to amend this Constitution to facilitate what would effectively be yet another term for this President.”
He observed that President Lungu’s statement was threatening but urged ConCourt judges to stand firm.
“There is a very veiled threat in there, saying that ‘we are keeping tabs on you, we know what you are saying, we know who you are talking to, we know what you are thinking about doing.’ I remember there was a time when late president Michael Sata used to use this similar tactic; he would say ‘I know what goes on in your bedroom.’ When you start to make statements like that, you put people on high alert. So, you have a problem here where somebody will feel afraid because it’s almost like saying ‘we have a file on you and if you decide this matter in a manner that I’ll not be happy about, then some of this information will be exposed.’ That is very problematic,” Chipimo said.
“The way in which I have looked at this issue is that Constitutional Court judges, please be adventurous. We actually need you to explore this issue [of President Lungu’s eligibility in 2021] in the most adventurous way possible – not out of speculation, not because you are just trying to do something new, not because you want to do a copy cut but because you should be free. Be free in your mind [and] that’s the way I look at this issue – not to be intimidated to conclude this matter in a manner that might harm those in high offices. If they decide otherwise, well, that’s fine; they should just be able to justify what the decision is. But I think for too long, we’ve remained in this situation where we feel ‘I can’t disturb the status quo even if I know that the law says this, I can’t decide in that way. I actually think that they should be adventurous and I’m thankful that we have in Kenya a Supreme Court that has decided to take a bold step forward.”
Meanwhile, Chipimo commended LAZ for taking a principled stance.
“LAZ has actually taken a very principled stance and I understand that there are those who feel that perhaps they behave in a manner that is always unfair to the PF and so on. But really, it’s just as a result of not really understanding what is the role of LAZ and what we expect of them, when it comes to protecting a Constitution that they swore to protect. Everyone of us that signs up to become a lawyer, that’s what you do and we expect the same from the President. So, it should really be the President himself who is issuing the calming voice to those who are trying to fight against LAZ,” said Chipimo.
“LAZ has never changed! It’s always the case when you have a situation when the government in power seems to believe that everybody should simply bow down to their will and simply accept everything that they say. But you’ll notice that in the voices that are trying to criticise LAZ, they’ve not been able to actually pinpoint what it is that is wrong about the statement that was made by the Law Association of Zambia. I commend them; they have been very brave and they must stick to their guns. This is something that we are doing not for our sake, this is for the future, this is for our children and our children’s children. Somebody is going to ask a question; ‘how did we allow this to happen, were there no voices that were ready to stand up and speak truthfully? I want to be on that list!”