CONSTITUTIONAL Lawyer John Sangwa State Counsel says the moment President Edgar Lungu files his nomination to contest the August elections, he will have committed treason by attempting to seize power by unlawful means because he does not qualify.
And Sangwa says it’s insane for Justice Minister Given Lubinda to suggest that challenging Edgar Lungu’s eligibility to stand for the third time would threaten Zambia’s peace.
Meanwhile, Sangwa says the fact that the Patriotic Front is now attacking its own appointed Constitutional Court judges, accusing them of corruption, shows that the party has realised Lungu doesn’t qualify and is looking for means of bulldozing its agenda.
Last week, Lubinda told Parliament that anyone trying to petition President Edgar Lungu’s eligibility was threatening Zambia’s peace.
“Mr Speaker Sir, it is a threat to peace when people say, ‘we have already drafted a petition, we are going to petition Edgar Chagwa Lungu when he files nomination. If you want to file a petition, as you are well aware, Sir, any person who has a real case to present before the adjudicator, will not go announcing, ‘I’m going to court tomorrow,’ especially on an election. What they will do is to hold it close to their hearts and go and file it when it matters the most,” said Lubinda.
But Sangwa says it’s insane for a leader to make such a statement.
“Anybody who says something like that is totally insane. It’s insane for any leader to say that. They (PF) must be reminded that the Constitution which they signed into law on 5th January 2016 cannot be equated to a Cabinet Memo. The Constitution clearly gives people the right to challenge the eligibility of those offering themselves for leadership, it is in the constitution. Now, how can anybody normal say that exercising that right will undermine the peace in the country? How? Unless they don’t believe in the law which they passed themselves. Remember this is a PF amendment, they created it, they should be in the forefront of protecting the constitution and celebrating its provisions, not undermining it,” he said.
He said it would be treason to impose Lungu on the people by unlawful means.
“You can’t force a candidate on the people, a candidate who doesn’t qualify by law. That is treason! It’s treason because you are trying to seize power by unlawful means. That is why I am making that point that until you repeal Article 106(3), the imposition of Lungu as a candidate is Treason. If you want him to qualify, repeal article 106(3). In fact the position is that the moment Mr Lungu files his nomination, he will have made a false declaration to say qualifies when in fact not. That is what will trigger the petition and that is what will make him commit treason. When you amend the Constitution, there are consequences and these are the consequences now. That’s why when these guys passed this Constitution amendment in 2016, I was shivering. I said ‘have these guys really read this document?’ The very fact that they are doing this means they didn’t read or understand what they were doing,” Sangwa said.
“For them to say that, it actually shows lack of leadership and recklessness. You need to have confidence in the Judicial system. That is why you have a special court to deal with nothing but just constitutional law issues. So, I have a different view and they have a different view, so where do we go? We don’t take the law into their own hands, we go to court and let the court decide. They were saying the court already ruled, so if the court has already ruled, what is the worry? Why should you be worried? If they are genuinely convinced that the Constitutional Court has already declared President Edgar Lungu eligible, then what is the worry? Because what it means is that when you walk in there, you already have an advantage so why should you be worried?” he wondered.
Responding to Lubinda’s question as to why he was announcing that he already had a petition against Lungu instead of waiting for the right time to file it, Sangwa said he was exercising his freedom of expression, and insisted that the petition was 98 per cent ready.
“I have the right! I am exercising my freedom of expression, this is not a private matter, it is a public matter. But the point is this, this issue first arose in 2016 it did not even arise a year ago, it arose 2016, 2017. I told the court to say ‘this issue is premature, it is not ripe for determination’ and I specifically told the court that there is in fact a procedure to address this issue, not the manner in which Danny Pule had done it. So it is not new, this thing has been known ever since. In fact, they are the ones who started it by going to court through their surrogates. But in any case, I have the right to express my opinion on issues of public concern or of public interest. No law bars me from doing that,” he said.
“Tell them that the petition is ready and I am just polishing it up. It is 98 per cent ready, just waiting to put the date and filing it. It’s an already refined document. In fact I have gone further, now I am ready for a preliminary issue. Tell them that not only I am focussed on the main matter, I am also preparing for the preliminary issue.
Sangwa further challenged President Lungu to stop being a coward and simply repeal Article 106(3) of the Constitution which stops him from standing for a third term.
“You know what makes Lungu a coward? The issue is very simple, he should have just amended the Constitution to remove the term limit. If they are brave, let them sponsor a bill to change the term limit without beating about the bush. Let’s not fool each other. It’s not about lying to people, threatening people, all they have to do is to sponsor a bill to repeal Article 106(3). Let’s not begin to bring ingenious arguments which ignore history and the plain language of the Constitution, let’s not do violence to the Constitution. If he is confident enough, let him repeal Article 106(3) the way Paul Kagame did it, then once he does that, I am going to tear my petition, i will put it in the shredder. But until them I will continue polishing it,” he said.
And responding to Lusaka Province PF chairman Paul Moonga’s accusation that the opposition were trying to bribe Judges to disqualify President Lungu from standing, Sangwa said it is reckless to attack judges of the Constitutional Court who were in any case appointed by the party in government.
It’s a very reckless and irresponsible thing to say. It’s a sign of desperation. That’s the only thing that one can draw from that. What it also shows is this; these are your own judges whom you appointed, how can you turn against them? If you believe that, then it means that you have lost control over the situation. But even before that, for you to be worried, it means you know that your candidate doesn’t qualify. It means you know that you do not have a meritorious case and you are just trying to bully everybody into submission. That is the problem. You can only make that allegation if you have no confidence in your case,” said Sangwa.
“What you are doing, you are preempting the situation to say if they rule against me, then I am going to allege corruption. But in any case who has money to bribe anyone anyway? We are not saying the judges are corrupt, but even assuming that they were, as that guy in PF is suggesting, the question is who has money to engage in corruption? Who is flashing money all over? If indeed the judges are open to corruption and bribery, who has the money and the capacity to bribe them? It can’t be lawyers, lawyers are struggling themselves. Obviously for such bribery, you can’t bribe people with peanuts. It has to be a serious bribe. Who has the capacity and the means to carry out such level of corruption? Who has the motive to carry out any form of corruption? The point is that let us have faith in these systems. There is a Constitutional Court, if it rules that Mr Lungu is eligible, that is fine. But until then he is not. Let us stop making unfounded allegations which are not based on any facts. All what we are doing is to undermine our own institutions.”