Answers to frequently asked questions on the NAREP proposal for a caretaker administration
1. Is the intention to change government before the 2016 elections?
No. This plan is intended to take effect in 2016 when a united, non-partisan candidate can stand in presidential elections in 2016 in the event that the PF fails to enact a new people-driven constitution by that time. The non-partisan candidate would serve for a period of 9 months in order to put in place a new constitution which would lead to fresh elections at the end of that 9 month period.
2. How will we be sure that the caretaker president will step down at the end of the interim period and not want to hold onto power?
There are 2 broad safeguards that will be put in place:
(a) The caretaker president will have to fulfill the following minimum criteria before he or she can be selected: (i) senior citizen with national stature and appeal; (ii) independent financial means; (iii) non-partisan; and (iv) obligated and committed to stepping down and declining to stand in the subsequent elections that would be conducted under the new constitution.
(b) The candidate would sign an irrevocable letter of resignation that would be registered at the High Court and made public as part of the election campaign and electoral process. Further safeguard measures can be considered.
It is important to point out that these measures do not render the process risk-free. However, it is also important to note that nothing that is truly worth fighting for is free of risk.
3. Is this Plan in line with the constitution?
Many of the commentators have missed the point about legality by arguing that this Plan is against the constitution. They assume that the law has to specifically allow an action in order for that action to be valid. The law, however, does not work that way. For something to be legal, one has to ask, not only whether the law allows it but also whether the law PREVENTS it.
The relevant point therefore is that there is nothing in the constitution that prevents all opposition parties and civil society identifying a non-partisan candidate to stand on their behalf with the commitment to stand down after a limited period when a new constitutional framework is in place.
In summary, there is nothing in the law that precludes the election of a temporary government whose sole existence is to usher in a new constitutional framework leading to fresh elections.
4. How will it work?
The implementation will require careful planning and coordination and will not be easy. However, with a clear will and determination, it can be done.
Identification of a neutral candidate can be done through the joint effort of political parties and civil society. Working together in this way stakeholders were able to work together to fight the one-party state and the attempt at a third term.
The caretaker administration would have a very clear roadmap to immediately launch a new voter registration exercise, appoint a referendum commission, launch the process of voting on the new constitution, passing the constitution amendment bill in parliament, start the process of preparing for general elections. Some have argued that a census will be necessary but this may not necessarily the case.
Depending on logistics, the proposed 9 month period may have to be more carefully thought through.
The trigger for the post-2016 elections (i.e. after the interim period) will be the resignation of the caretaker president. Elections involving all political parties then take place under a new constitution within 3 months of the resignation of the caretaker president.
5. How do we respond to those saying the Plan cannot work?
It is vital that people understand that there is currently no plan to ensure that a draft constitution will be in place by the 2016 general election. Current efforts are dependent on the PF succumbing to pressure to release the draft constitution and eventually agreeing to hold a referendum and then to allowing their members of parliament to vote in favour of the new constitution.
The PF know that their declining popularity is not likely to give them an electoral victory if they have to secure more than 50 percent of the votes in a general election. Enacting a constitution that provides for 50%+1 for electoral victory would therefore be tantamount to writing a suicide note. There are already concerns that this provision may have been removed from the draft constitution.
Those challenging the practicality of this Plan therefore need to be able to point out: (a) why they believe the Plan will not work; (b) what they think can be done to fix the Plan or make it work better; (c) what they would propose as an alternative if it is established that the Plan is not workable.
6. Will this Plan undermine the ongoing initiative by the Grand Coalition on the Enactment of a new Constitution?
The Plan will complement the current work of the Grand Coalition. Unless the PF are made to feel that there is a consequence to their continued resistance to the enactment of a people-driven constitution, they will simply continue to play for time. They will simply wind down the clock until it is too late to undertake all the steps necessary to ensure a new constitution is in place before 2016.
The threat of a united opposition supporting a non-partisan candidate will cause the PF to pause for thought and reassess their options if they continue fighting the goal of implementing a new people-driven constitution before 2016.
The Plan therefore helps rather than undermines the work of the Grand Coalition.
7. Can Zambia afford the costs associated with so many expensive activities proposed for the interim period?
The key will be stakeholder unity. Zambia’s success in cementing it’s democratic traditions will, without a doubt, be supported by partner nations who with the right approach, will undoubtedly be ready to underwrite the interim administration procedures and the elections that would follow.
The key to the success of the Plan is SELFLESSNESS by all politicians and political stakeholders.