Former Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Dr Roger Chongwe says the coalition government clause in the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill No. 10 of 2019 is nonsensical and perhaps made by people who are “sick”.
Speaking during a discussion forum organized by Chapter One Foundation in partnership with News Diggers!, OSISA and Prime TV on whether democracy is retreating in Zambia, Dr Chongwe argued that a Constitution could not legislate two political parties to form a coalition government.
“You cannot legislate for political parties to join each other in a coalition that is in agreement between them. So, Bill 10, in as far as it makes a preposition in regard to the election of the President of Zambia, is nonsensical because it was made by people, perhaps, who were sick because a constitution cannot create a coalition of political parties; a constitution is completely different,” Dr Chongwe said at Lusaka’s Intercontinental Hotel, Thursday.
“Coalition is an arrangement between the two existing different political parties; they agree that during elections, we will come together and if we win, if we have more seats between ourselves, we will form a government in that particular year.”
He said people who had some political education could not have suggested the coalition proposal contained in the Bill.
“I think there is one problem that we are facing in this country, that problem is a lack of understanding of each other and also lack of understanding of what we have created. The attempt by making a law to force political parties that have competed in a presidential election to form a coalition could never, ever have been proposed or suggested if the people suggesting that had some political education,” Dr Chongwe observed.
“What we are talking about in Bill 10 is ignorance of the people who introduced that concept of departing from majoritarian presidency. They want to kill it completely! This is why they are saying to you: it is possible that if Mr Michael Zulu and Rodger Chongwe, who have different political parties and at the end of the day, Mr Michael Zulu has 59 per cent of the votes and Mr Chongwe has 20 per cent of the votes, Mr Zulu and Mr Chongwe can come together and they will add the votes and then form an authority where Micharl will become a President and Chongwe is going to become the Vice-President, that is defeating the purpose of the election of a majority president.”
He advised Zambians not to be afraid to point out the wrongs of their political leaders.
“You are a Zambian, this is our country; do not be frightened by political positions if your politician is wrong, you tell him that you disagree. So, we are not all fools and this why we are here discussing, sharing views,” Dr Chongwe advised.
“So, we are now being asked to effect certain amendments to the Constitution. One of the amendments, which we got from the constitutional change of 2012 was that a debt cannot be contracted for payment by the people of Zambia unless Parliament has sanctioned, and when Parliament has sanctioned that debt, then the Minister of Finance can go ahead and borrow the money. It is there as part of the constitutional provisions that Dr [Ngosa] Simbyakula obliged to enact. Now, the same government, the same people are saying ‘no, this law is bad; let us remove it from the statute book’. It can be removed from the statute book, but let us follow the rules of engagement. How are we going to do so? We should go back to the people.”
He recalled how president Michael Sata and former vice-president Dr Guy Scott had approached him to help in the plan of reforming Zambia’s constitution.
“The Patriotic Front top leadership, before coming into power, had told me it had a plan to reform the Constitution of Zambia. By top, I mean Michael Sata, Dr Guy Scott, who visited me in my office for the purpose of talking. So, the PF in campaign had a programme for constitutional reform, and by reform, I take it as understood that we are talking improvement, not merely change for its own sake,” Dr Chongwe narrated.
“I was asked to participate in the discussion with the vice and the president because they had heard me talk and discuss a different election system from the Zambian one, which was then and still is the first-past-the post, or winner takes all inherited from the colonial British.”
He said president Sata wanted to do away with by-elections by introducing the Proportional Representation electoral system.
“My two soon-to-be VIP visitors knew that the Mung’omba Report had recommended a limited form of Proportional Representation, but it was not approved by the [Levy] Mwanawasa government. Guy Scott and Michael [Sata], however, wanted to do away with the insecurity and the costs of by-elections. Proportional Representation would have achieved these for them when in government; they graciously asked me to accompany them to Chongwe,” he recalled.
“They had meeting and they asked me if I can accompany them to explain to the meeting the meaning of Proportional Representation which, if adopted, there can be no by-elections and if a member of parliament dies in office, he/she would be succeeded by a member from his party, but no by-elections until the term of office has expired. I did not attend the meeting, but I gave them something in writing and, subsequently, when they came into power, they said they wanted to create a constitutional committee to write a new constitution for Zambia to enlarge its democracy.”
And Dr Chongwe said there is no enhancement of democracy if the police and party cadres continue to break up public gatherings.
“I remain resolute against the use of the Public Order Act, and the manner this is used to suppress public discussions and governance that may be unpalatable to the powers that be. I remain resolute in my belief that there can be no enhancement of our democracy by the use of police and the so-called party cadres to break up public gatherings,” Dr Chongwe said.
“Whilst I do not agree that nothing should be allowed to trot about with torches through our streets…we must allow public gatherings that demonstrate support for opposition leaders who should be given a fair role to air their policies just as I must be permitted as a mere individual to be heard by those who wish to hear me.”
He said enhancement of democracy should start with the top leadership itself.
“Do we have democracy in Zambia? I don’t know; it is up to you. Now, if KK, just for example, sits in Cabinet and he says to his Cabinet and Cabinet agrees that we are now going to implement tough measures in the way we are going to use our resources, our money; I am quite sure those of us who were born, who lived when Kaunda got into power and lived under him, got rid of him and got someone else, we can still remember that if Kaunda says ‘we have to deny ourselves because we have a problem’, it will start with him, as an example. He won’t say ‘iwe, Roger Chongwe, I want you to starve because you can afford to do it, I am President’ because I wonder everywhere in this country…‘this austerity does not apply to me’, is that democracy? But this is what is happening in our country,” said Dr Chongwe.