A CONSORTIUM of civil society organisations says the UPND Alliance government should not maneuver to undermine the voice of the opposition by creating a supermajority parliament in view of the over 50 parliamentary election petitions by their losing candidates.
And the civil society organisations have stated that they expect the constitutional reform process, including the expansion of the Bill of Rights, to be completed within 12 months.
Speaking on behalf of other CSOs at a media briefing, Monday, Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) executive director Leah Mitaba expressed concern that the nullification of the election results may consequently result in by-elections, which were a drain of the country’s resources.
She therefore asked government to expedite the process of constitutional reforms so that the country should introduce an electoral system that avoids by-elections at all costs.
“The UPND has petitioned more than 50 parliamentary election results that were lost. While it is important that the electoral malpractices that took place during the 2021 elections are exposed, there is a downside to these petitions. We are concerned that the nullification of the petition election results may consequently result in by-elections and the by-elections are a drain of the country’s resources. The resources that are used during by-elections can be channeled to needy and productive ventures. We thus impose the government to expedite the process of constitutional reforms so that the country should introduce an electoral system that avoids by-elections at all costs,” Mitaba said.
“It is however our prayer that the new UPND Alliance government will not maneuver to undermine the voice of the opposition by creating a supermajority parliament. Constitutional reforms ought to be concluded by repealing and replacing the current constitution. The constitution by the technical committee through the drafting of the Zambian constitution is envisaged as a working draft, the Bill of Rights should be considered during this very constitution reform process. In this undertaking, expansion of the Bill of Rights and holding of the referendum are a must and the reform should be completed within 12 months.”
Mitaba called on government to prioritise social protection because statistics showed that majority of Zambians were poor.
“On government’s focus, while we have noted with curiosity the singular focus on the economy, we believe what is important is we wish to implore the government not to lose sight on the need to strengthen the institutions of government, such as the police and other law enforcement agencies, the Electoral Commission of Zambia, the courts, the service commission, among others. We also wish to call the government’s attention towards social protection because it still remains a priority when statistics are telling us that the majority of Zambians are poor,” she said.
“Regarding non-governmental organisations, we note with dismay how the PF regime did everything possible and used all available means at its disposal to fight the NGOs and to some extent money was used to divide NGOs. Further use of the Public Order Act and other laws that the PF used resulted in a shrinking civic space. NGOs could no longer stand together as one on various governance issues. Sadly, some NGOs became the mouthpiece of the PF government. In this new dawn environment we hope all NGOs will work together on critical issues affecting the people and the democracy of the country.”
Mitaba cautioned citizens not to be complacent in holding government accountable.
She also expressed concern with the low appointment of women, youths and persons with disabilities to cabinet and key government positions.
“Our caution to the Zambian citizens is that we should not be complacent in holding government accountable. Government starts work the moment they are sworn into office and our role as citizens and civil groups must start on day one. We do not want to get to the point where things deteriorate the way they did and then that is when we begin to speak out. As concerned CSOs, we believe that not all is well especially when we consider the recent cabinet appointments. For example, the number of women, youths, persons with disabilities and other minority groups that have been nominated is far less than we expected. In this regard, the church, labour movement, non-governmental organisations, political parties and other stakeholders should take advantage of the new dawn environment and guarantee freedoms to keep government in check by voicing out on public concerns,” Mitaba said.
“We are concerned that the President did not take into account Article 259 of the constitution when making nominations to parliament especially when appointing the cabinet and other senior government officials. We are particularly concerned with the low appointment of women, youths and persons with disabilities to cabinet and key government positions. Further, we wish to note that the nominations to parliament were not inspiring as there are only two women out of the eight members of parliament that the President has the power to nominate. No youth and persons with disabilities were appointed among those. The President should have applied himself to the provisions of Article 259 of the constitution which empowers him to ensure that 50% of each gender is nominated.”
Meanwhile, Mitaba advised the PF to sort out the leadership challenges and provide the necessary opposition that the nation needed.
“Opposition political parties must realize that the UPND which offered strong opposition has now gone into government and has since raised the standards of governance. It will therefore take a seriously organized and well-coordinated political party or even another alliance to provide formidable checks and balances to the UPND Alliance government. Opposition political parties should strive to have organized, strong and consistent leadership,” said Mitaba.
“They must be able to build strategic alliances or coalitions with various sectors of society and use maximum of the social media to mobilize and run with the electorate. The practice of opposition parties defecting to the ruling party or the inducing of by-elections weakens democracy. For this reason, we expect that the political parties in opposition will act maturely. We implore the opposition PF to sort out the leadership challenges and provide the necessary opposition that the nation so much needs.”
The represented CSOs include; OCiDA, GEARS Initiative, Operation Young Vote, FODEP, Transparency International Zambia, Centre for Policy Dialogue, ZCSD, National Women’s Lobby, Council of Churches in Zambia, Alliance for Community Action and the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions.