Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations Amos Chanda says President Edgar Lungu does not agree with the Constitutional Court ruling, but has not stopped former ministers who are willing to pay back from doing so.
And Chanda says President Lungu has made it clear that if the Constitutional Court finds him eligible to recontest the presidency in 2021, the ruling party will not force him to stand if he doesn’t want to.
Meanwhile, Chanda says the Head of State supports the Political Parties Bill because he wants to see intra-party democracy in the opposition political parties even before they form government.
Speaking to News Diggers in an exclusive interview yesterday, Chanda said President Lungu did not agree with the decision maed by the ConCourt. He however said the matter had not been tabled in Cabinet.
“Cabinet proceedings are always recorded in the minutes. I have not seen that item in the minutes of the last Cabinet meeting. The decisions of Cabinet last week, were announced by acting chief government spokesperson Stephen Kampyongo. The President has no position on that matter,” Chanda said.
“However, he disagrees with the ruling of the Constitutional Court, but he has no further position. Ministers who choose to pay or not to pay are individual ministers and the President has nothing against them. Indeed, one would argue that if the ministers were illegally in office, how does that exclude the Vice-President? The Vice-President is also a minister on the basis of her being a member of Parliament. So, really the question is, is it in doubt that for the period that they were in office they worked? They worked. But the President has respected the decision of the court, even if he does not agree with it.
He further wondered why the Speaker of the National Assembly, who was a transition officer, would have power to act as President through a disputed election petition.
“Dr Matibini was a transitional Speaker, and the first order of business for Parliament is to elect the Speaker. Meaning he wasn’t MP, so how would he be more legitimate to hold power as acting President than the person who was outgoing and elected – forget about whether he is disputed or not.”
And in explaining President Lungu’s statement in which he said “I am only going upto 2021”, Chanda said the PF will not force him to stand if he decides not to.
“The President is a lawyer, and this is why sometimes we sit down ourselves and wonder why people want to debate where there is no debate. What does the Constitution say about the term of office when you are elected and sworn-in? Five years. He was sworn-in in 2016 and that five years finishes in 2021, so the President was simply stating a legal fact, a reality that his term of office ends in 2021. Now, because of the matter being in court, we are actually constrained to explain exactly what we mean. I was flooded with questions to explain a very simple sentence, it was very simple, but it appeared controversial in the light of the ongoing debate in the public domain. I was actually itching to put this debate to an end, but I cannot do that without risking interfering with the decision that is due in the court. But after that, we will go back to that statement. We are eager actually for the Constitutional Court to make its statement,” Chanda said.
“But I can also take you back to what the Vice-President said in Parliament. The Central Committee prefers him as its candidate in future elections, but she was very clear that the decision is President Lungu’s to make. To run or not to run, the President will make that decision himself. I think she was very clear. There was no further clarifications from State House because we thought the President’s statement was clear. Mr Davies Mwila says the Central Committee has chosen him, but after the court matter, whichever way it finishes, the President will make the decision. So if there is a decision to be made, it tells you a lot of things. Even if you want him to stand and he doesn’t want, will you force him? Even if the Constitutional Court rules that he is eligible to stand but he doesn’t want, he will not stand. Are they going force him? No one will force him to stand. But there is a picture [being portrayed] that his candidature depends on the decision of the Constitutional Court.”
Asked if President Lungu would respect the ConCourt’s decision if he was disqualified, considering the remarks he made in Solwezi, Chanda said the Head of State was willing to go back to Chawama “even tomorrow”.
“The President is very clear. If his presidency came to an end tomorrow, he is very clear that he will go back to Chawama at his farm and continue with his life. He says very clearly that he wasn’t born in State House and this power thing doesn’t torture him at all. The absence of power doesn’t torture him because he has surrendered power before, he has given it up and gotten it back legally. So he is not bothered about the outcome of the Constitutional Court, whichever way it goes,” he said.
Asked if the President was in good enough health to continue upto 2026 if allowed to contest, Chanda said the Head of State was physically and mentally fit, but the decision to stand was at his discretion.
“Every morning he wakes up at 5AM, he does five-10 kilometres and eight different exercises. He is extremely fit and capable. His mental state is at its best, his physical state has no encumbrances whatsoever. But to run or not to run will be his decision,” Chanda explained.
Meanwhile, Chanda said President Lungu believes that Zambia’s democratic values need to be entrenched in all political parties, and that the Political Parties Bill would help achieve that.
“Generally, State House and the President is in support of the Political Parties Bill, but I haven’t looked at clauses that relate to banning presidential candidates who have lost numerous election attempts. The overriding principle in that Political Parties Bill is to entrench intra-party democracy and on that one, the President is even upfront and public. He says political parties that do not exhibit democratic tendencies within, cannot be expected to form democratic governments themselves,” said Chanda.
“So the PF is rallying behind the NGOs that are pushing for that, and the Minister of Justice has the support of Cabinet to present that Political Parties Bill. Further to that, Professor Ibrahim Ghambari briefed the President. He thinks that intra-party democracy is an essential element of capacity building within political parties and he will be putting it on the table for the envisaged dialogue between the opposition and the ruling party. So we support the Political Parties Bill generally.”