The Forum for Democratic Process (FODEP) has observed that the ongoing debates, following the Constitutional Court’s ruling in President Edgar Lungu’s eligibility case, have potential to spur instability in Zambia.

In an interview, FODEP executive director Chifwembe Mweenge blamed this misunderstanding on the 2016 amended Republican Constitution, which he said was done in a hurry and has a lot of lacunas.

Mwenge explained that if any civil unrest was to arise due to differences in opinions regarding President Lungu’s eligibility, poorer Zambians would suffer the consequences.

“The ConCourt ruling on the President’s eligibility has left the country talking and divided. There are those who are saying it was the right move and those who are saying it wasn’t. But again, one thing for sure is that, we are a nation of laws and we need to respect our own laws. So, it’s important for our leaders, both in the opposition and in government to ensure that, as they agitate or put forward their opinions regarding the ConCourt ruling on the eligibility of the President, they should do so within the confines of the law,” Mweenge said.

“We really are believers of freedom of expression and government needs to facilitate for that right. We need to express our opinions in terms of how we feel. We feel that it’s not in any one’s interest to fuel civil strife because at the end of the day, we know that the people who normally get affected when there are any confusions, it’s women and children and the poor. Those who have got money fly out and go to other places. So, yes, we ascribe to freedom of expression and we feel that the government ought to facilitate for that because we believe that the more people talk, the more they are able to air out their opinions, the better.”

He observed that the reason for the ongoing confusion in the country was the 2016 amended Constitution.

“The current Constitution has brought us this confusion! All of us will have to agree that we are where we are because we did ourselves this favour. With that acceptance, we need to ensure that going forward, the Constitution-making process is given ample time. That is why in many cases, these processes are opened up to the people. Much as we agree that the referendum failed, I think that the method of adopting constitutions in Zambia have always left the very beneficiaries of that Constitution at the back,” Mweenge said.

“The politicians get the centre stage and when they do that, they are normally protecting their own interests. If they see that perhaps they didn’t have enough time to read through and understand some of the things, then they come back and find someone to put the blame on. We have had the issue of the grade 12 certificate, which also did a lot of damage to many politicians who didn’t have [the] qualification, some of them even going to an extent of forging certificates. This, to us, demonstrates that first of all, the people who are in front of couching the document and also ratifying it via Parliament, do not take seriously the issue of constitution-making.”

He pointed to the need for Zambia to relook the lacunas in the Constitution, warning that leaving the status quo would only mean shelving a problem that would eventually turn the country upside down.

“In moving forward, we need to be very pragmatic. We need to ensure that the entire process is opened up. We feel that nothing basically should be an exclusive right for the legislature in as far as constitutional-making is concerned because this very important document has the capacity to turn this country upside down. You saw this on the issue of the 14 days, and now this issue of President Lungu,” said Mweenge.

“All these issues, if you put them together, they are telling us that we need to ensure that the constitutional-making process is not exclusive to the politicians. It should not be given alone to the politicians, it must be opened up. Yes, we understand the financial issues, but when we look at times when we started to amend the Constitution, we have been at this process for more than five times. Every time we are making a constitution because we feel there is something wrong. Even as we are talking about lacunas, it’s important that this process is not rushed.”