CONSTITUTIONAL lawyer John Sangwa has insisted that President Edgar Lungu is not eligible to contest elections next year saying he has already been elected twice to the Presidential office and cannot therefore demand a third term.
Sangwa has further encouraged Zambians to reject the controversial Constitutional amendment Bill number 10 saying it is the only sure way of blocking President Lungu from contesting.
Speaking during the News Diggers discussion forum held in collaboration with Prime Television, Eden University, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and Joy FM, Friday, Sangwa said it would be interesting to see how the Electoral Commission of Zambia would treat President Lungu’s nomination papers because the law was very clear.
“When you read the language of the Constitution, it is very clear. The bottom line is President Lungu does not qualify to stand in 2021, the issue is as simple as that. The Constitution does not talk about the number of times you serve, it is the number of times you get elected. So the Constitution expects, to be only able to contest and be elected twice, once you have been elected twice then that’s it, you are done! I think what has been misunderstood is in relation to the person who has been Vice-President. One can only be elected to the office of President twice, it doesn’t matter how many years you serve, you can only be elected to the office of President twice, no more than twice! You can’t have a third term, you can’t go for a third term! There is no provision for a third term in our Constitution! What would be of interest is what Mr [Patrick] Nshindano and his colleagues [at ECZ] would do when President Lungu files his nomination. We will see what they are going to do because they have the right to reject the nomination papers, so we will see what they are going to do,” Sangwa said.
Sangwa said the Constitutional Court ruling did not declare President Lungu eligible to stand.
“There was this bogus narrative that the Constitutional Court came up with to say there was one regime then a different regime, it has never been like that! We have had one Constitutional order from 1991 which was amended in 1996 and 2016. It is still the same Constitution and that is why we are saying that, that Constitution whether amended or unamended, it still remains that one can only be elected twice to the office of President. That is what the law says. That three years we are talking about related to the Vice-President. If the Vice-President serves for less than three years, then they are eligible to contest and that is what the Constitution is dealing with, it has nothing to do with the person who is elected President,” he said.
And Sangwa said that Zambians needed to ensure Bill 10 was not passed if they wanted to prevent President Lungu from contesting elections in 2021.
“We have to wait until President Lungu files his nomination and whoever is aggrieved can now challenge that provision. But we will only be able to challenge and have the opportunity to challenge if Bill 10 doesn’t go through because one of the provisions that Bill 10 seeks to repeal is the right to challenge the nomination of a Presidential candidate. But if Bill 10 goes through, then we will miss the opportunity, we won’t have the right to challenge the eligibility of a Presidential candidate to stand. So that is one of the dangers of allowing Bill 10 to go through. So the issue of whether President Lungu is eligible to contest in 2021 is yet to be determined by the courts. I have given my opinion that given the way the our Constitution is right now, he’s not eligible to stand,” he said.
Sangwa advised President Lungu to stop talking about his victory in 2021, saying such pronouncements were an injury to democracy.
“I hope that the President was not quoted correctly, but when a President says ‘I will rule up to 2026’, according to what was reported, but first of all, no democrat could ever make such a statement. No President who respects the Constitution and democracy could ever make a statement like that because your stay in power is not decision, it’s a decision of the people. And by saying that, what you are basically saying is that Mr Nshindano is wasting his time, it’s like the whole system is already rigged because you can’t make such a statement unless you are sure that you control these institutions. Statements like that undermine the credibility of whatever Mr Nshindano is doing and no President who respects the rule of law would ever make such a statement. Such a President is actually a very dangerous person to democracy,” Sangwa said.
Asked if he was advocating for another person to get elected, Sangwa said he had no allegiance to anyone.
“It’s an interesting question; am I advocating for another person to get elected? No. I consider myself to be a patriot, I have no allegiance to anyone. I have taken oath to defend the Constitution and that is all what I am doing. If the President is right, he will have my support. If he’s wrong, I will also speak out. The reason you should believe me is very simple, I have a track record, I have never been to bed with any government. I will tell you this, it’s a long history. I was one of the first few people that defended [Dr Kenneth] Kaunda when he was declared stateless. I was one of the first few people when Dean Mung’omba and the others were arrested and charged with treason, no lawyer wanted to touch him, but we were there. He had been arrested, tortured and by the time he came out, he was badly tortured and when he came out, he never recovered, that’s why he died quite early. Obviously, it’s a known fact. President Chiluba when he was out of power and when they appointed a task force, no lawyer wanted to touch him but I was in the forefront and I have never been partisan. My only allegiance has been to the Constitution. I defended President Chiluba because I believed he was given a raw deal. I defended President Kaunda because I believed he was given a raw deal. All these things amount to violation of the Constitution,” he said.
“Many people may not know but when President Michael Sata was arrested and charged with theft of a motor vehicle, it was my firm that represented him. People forget all these things.”
Meanwhile, Sangwa said the political violence currently obtaining in the country was a sign that those responsible for managing the country were failing to do so.
“We have never known violence in this country, even under Kaunda’s one party rule, we never had violence. The trend that we are seeing is totally unZambian, it does not reflect who we are and it ought to be investigated. But when you begin to see such kind of problems, it means that those that are responsible for management of the country have failed to do so. In my view, what every Zambian needs to understand is that Zambia is bigger than all of us. Nobody owns Zambia, we all own Zambia and we have a responsibility to maintain the peace that we have had. And what we should not forget is that political parties come and go, nobody rules this country forever, you just make a contribution and move on, you don’t own the country. But the problem is that when people begin to think that only they have the right to govern, that is where we begin to have these kind of problems and it goes down to respecting the electoral process and accepting the credibility of the processes themselves. In terms of the state of democracy, I can only tell you one thing. We are having this debate at a very interesting time, In September this year, we will clock exactly 30 years since one party state ended. We now have the opportunity to make comparisons. We have 27 years of a one party state and 30 years of a multi-party system and I think 30 years is a long period enough to be able to make an assessment, how far have we gone and what have we achieved?” asked Sangwa.
Sangwa who was invited alongside Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) Chief Electoral Officer Patrick Nshindano and Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) general secretary Fr Emmanuel Chikoya to discuss electoral violence and the state of Zambia’s democracy.