The President has accused those who are opposed to the enactment of Bill 10 as enemies of progress who convene in the cover of night to preach lies to the people of Zambia. Angered by this, President Edgar Lungu has instructed his Cabinet Ministers, members of parliament and Patriotic Front officials to go out and counter the “lies” with the truth. The Head of State has pledged that government and the party will bankroll the campaign to counter what activists like John Sangwa and Linda Kasonde are saying about the Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019.
Indeed, we have so far seen about four Cabinet Ministers hold press briefings at their offices telling Zambians to support Bill 10. Some members of parliament like Honourable Tutwa Ngulube of Kabwe Central and his Chembe constituency counterpart Sebastian Kopulande have gone into overdrive with this campaign.
This is good for Zambia. National discourse is extremely important for the development of the country. The debate around Bill 10 should be encouraged. Everyone who has anything to say about Bill 10 should be heard, or at least they must be allowed to speak even if no one is interested to hear them.
But, like the President says, this debate must not be about spreading misinformation or name calling. It must be about providing answers to the questions that those who are less informed are asking. As a newspaper, we hold the view that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” But the President and those who work under him are saying the Constitution of Zambia is broken again, despite the fact that they fixed it in 2016, and now they have proposed solutions. We would like Honourable Ngulube, Kopulande, Mundubile and all those who who are supporting Bill 10 to explain the following clauses in Bill 10:
Right now, there is a provision in the Constitution, which states that when a presidential candidate files in his or her nomination papers to take part in the elections, anyone who thinks such a candidate is not eligible to be Republican President can go to court within seven days and challenge the candidate in question. The Constitutional Court would then look at the grounds presented and decide. Once enacted, Bill 10 will remove this provision. Under Bill 10, there will be no room for anyone to challenge a presidential candidate’s eligibility; anyone aggrieved can only challenge the outcome of the election. Is this what the people of Zambia want?
Remember that in the case of Danny Pule and others, THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DID NOT DECLARE PRESIDENT EDGAR LUNGU ELIGIBLE TO STAND IN 2021. The Constitutional Court could not have declared President Lungu eligible to stand because he is not the one who was in court and he was not joined to the case. It is when President Lungu files his nomination papers in 2021 that the people of Zambia can now go and challenge his eligibility and drag him personally to the Constitutional Court if they so wish. If Bill 10 is enacted, citizens who are opposed to the third term will be denied an opportunity to challenge President Lungu. Is this what the people of Zambia want?
Through Bill 10, the Patriotic Front is proposing a coalition government so that if a political party fails to get 50 per cent plus one, there should be no re-run. Instead, the President can decide to form a coalition government with another small political party in order to cross the 50 per cent plus one threshold. This is designed to rescue the ruling party in 2021. In the last election, President Lungu and the PF retained power by only 50.3 per cent or 13,000 votes. Given what has transpired in Zambia between 2016 and now, chances that the PF can get these 13,000 votes range from slim to impossible! So, President Lungu and his party don’t want a re-run, they want to settle this with a coalition government.
The problem is that if President Lungu is lucky enough and gets 45 per cent, and another minority party gets seven per cent, the two can enter into a coalition government under the Bill 10 amendment to the law and rule the country without drawing their mandate from the people of Zambia. This means the one who comes out number two and all the other participants in the election are discarded.
Now, the people of Zambia must realize that the minority coalition partner cannot be vice-president because President Lungu will already have a running mate. He cannot be prime minister or even nominated member of parliament because there are no such provisions in the law. So, what does he become? Let Mr Tutwa point us to where Bill 10 answers this. Let’s assume that they nominate each other into power without drawing their mandate from citizens, what happens when the minority coalition partner later differs with President Lungu and decides to withdraw his seven per cent votes or his support from the party? Let Mr Kopulande tell us how Bill 10 explains this.
Control of the Judiciary:
The Constitution currently provides for an independent Judicial Complaints Commission that looks into the conduct of judges. PF, through Bill 10, wants to change this and revert to the system where the President retains the power to appoint his desired tribunal members for a specific case. Further, under Bill 10, the Chief Justice will be part of the Constitutional Court, thereby taking away the autonomy, reduce the status of the Court and the powers of the Constitutional Court president. Can Mr Mundubile tell the people of Zambia how this law will be progressive?
Role of the Speaker during an election petition:
The law currently says once the election of a President has been challenged in court, the Speaker of the National Assembly must assume the role of acting President until the election dispute is settled or until the next election is held. PF wants Bill 10 to amend the law so that the sitting President retains all the Executive powers and functions during the whole process. Is this law democratic? Does this provide a level-playing field?
Payment of retirees:
The Constitution, as amended in 2016, dictates that when a person is retired, they must stay on the payroll until all their retirement benefits are settled. Bill 10 wants this provision amended so that retirees can be removed from the payroll on the last day of work without their benefits so that they can go home and wait in their poverty. Here, government is the biggest culprit at failing to pay retirees, and civil servants will be discarded from employment while some will die before getting their retirement benefits. Is this what President Lungu wants for Zambia?
The current law says that before government goes ahead to borrow, there must be approval from Parliament. It’s a way of checking on the Executive to make sure that it does not contract debt recklessly. Once enacted, Bill 10 will remove Parliamentary approval for debt contraction. Why is it that the PF government doesn’t want to be questioned on debt acquisition?
And out of curiosity, why has the Bill 10 debate annoyed President Lungu so much? Is this a sign that without Bill 10 and Seer 1 powers, he stands no chance of winning in 2021?