Law Association of Zambia president Eddie Mwitwa says it does not matter how much time those who challenge presidential petitions are given, what matters is whether or not the court gives them a chance to be heard.

On Monday, Government Chief Whip Brian Mundubile said enacting Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019 would help the country in maintaining peace during and after the 2021 general election.

The Constitution amendment Bill 10 in clause 30, article 103 (2) proposes to increase the number of days of hearing a Presidential petition from 14 to 30 days.

But in an interview Mwitwa said what was more important was for all affected parties to get an opportunity to be heard.

“Whether the intended amendment to Bill 10 will bring about peace, I think that can only be demonstrated or seen if again we experience another election petition in 2021 but whether you give petitioners two days, three months, four years to argue their case, what matters is whether the courts have in fact given the parties an opportunity to be heard; when the court delivers a decision that is well reasoned and explains to the losing party why they have lost or why they have won,” Mwitwa said.

“It is not so much about the timing or the time frame that is given. That will be my view, so whether it is 30 days that will come into play or still go the polls with 14 days which is currently in the Constitution, it is more about hearing of the petition if at all there will be one; the manner in which it is heard, the manner in which the judgment is delivered and the content of that judgment. There is no guarantee, there is no absolutely no guarantee that 14 days is not what brings about peace or chaos; it is in the manner the matter is dealt with.”

He said in his view, what caused tension in 2016 was the manner in which the Presidential petition was terminated.

“My personal view is that the tension and the difficulties that were experienced in 2016 is because of the manner in which the Presidential petition was terminated or the hearing was terminated. It wasn’t done in the best way, if one can put it bluntly. Because on the Friday when the matter was adjourned, around midnight, the parties were told that the matter will be heard the following week beginning Monday. But when that Monday came and the court said ‘no the 14 days elapsed on Friday, we can’t hear’, that brought about a lot of suspicion and questions were obviously asked as to how the courts actually made a decision on a Friday night and actually changed over the weekend? What happened during the weekend? And at what time did the courts actually sit to make that decision. I personally think that is where the problems came from because one party did not feel like it had been heard particularly, president [Hakainde] Hichilema and his party,” he said.

And Mwitwa reiterated that if Parliament went ahead to debate Bill 10, there was a risk that all the controversial clauses would be enacted.
“We still hope and pray that the bill can be withdrawn. So if the Constitution must be amended, Parliament will need to have a bill that does not have any of the issues that have been controversial or which the select committee has said no to. But if the same bill that we have been talking about which was published in June 2019 is what will be debated in this session of Parliament, there is every risk that those controversial clauses will pass,” said Mwitwa.