GOVERNMENT yesterday got a confidence-boosting nod in its endeavour to deliver a people-driven constitution as two critical bills passed the second reading after receiving two-thirds majority vote in Parliament.
The Constitution of Zambia and Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2015 passed the second reading after each was subjected to a vote following a heated debate in the House.
Patriotic Front members of Parliament, who were the proponents of the two bills that are meant to give Zambians a constitution they are yearning for, mustered enough support particularly from MMD MPs to defeat the United Party for National Development (UPND) whose MPs were opposed.
The PF has 87 MPs while the combined opposition has 69, with one independent. One seat is vacant.
In the first vote on the Constitution of Zambia Bill, 106 MPs voted in favour, 36 voted against while four abstained, sending PF and some MMD MPs into jubilation.
On the vote regarding the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, 109 MPs voted that the Bill should pass second reading, while 35 MPs, mainly from the UPND, voted against while two abstained.
Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini subjected the Constitution Bill to a vote, as required by law.
Dr Matibini said in line with Article 79 (a) (2) (b) of the Constitution, a Bill for the alteration of the constitution shall not pass second and third reading stages by the votes of not less than two-third of the Assembly.
Minister of Justice Ngosa Simbyakula commended the MPs for voting and urged them to put partisan politics aside.
The amendment bill seeks to, among several proposals, permit dual citizenship; provide for a 50-percent -plus-one vote threshold for the election of a President; provide for a mixed member proportional representation; provide for political party funding; and provide for the election of a vice-president as a running mate of a presidential candidate.
Earlier, Dr Simbyakula appealed to MPs to support the Constitution of Zambia Bill.
Dr Simbyakula said Government decided to have the constitution adopted in Parliament as opposed to a referendum because the process is cost-effective.
“The referendum is an election in itself and holding a stand-alone referendum could have meant holding two major events in one year,” Dr Simbyakula said.
The minister said Government is severely constrained to support two major events in a year.
He said Government considered it prudent to bring the constitution to MPs and subject the Bill of Rights to a referendum as is required by law and that it should be held concurrently with the tripartite elections in 2016.
Dr Simbyakula said Government decided to bring the whole document to Parliament so that the House can determine the non-continuous clauses.
“We were of the view that doing so on our own would have amounted to producing a white paper, as members of Parliament may recall, production of white papers have in the past contributed to the derailment of the constitution-making process,” he said.
The minister said to produce a successful constitution document requires the involvement of all stakeholders.
The minister said there is no doubt that the best expression of the manifestation of the will of the people on an issue is through a direct vote of all voters in a referendum.
Dr Simbyakula said the constitution is not a single issue, rather it is a complex multi-dimensional document consisting of a multitude of issues.
He said the draft constitution consists of 322 clauses and a “yes” or “no” document cannot reflect the true will of the voter.
“Provided we stay focused and do not sacrifice the process before us on the altar of partisan politics, I have the confidence in the ability of members of Parliament to express the will of the people,” Dr Simbyakula said.
The minister also said the Constitution of Zambia Bill includes all the clauses apart from the Bill of Rights, which can only be adopted through a referendum.
“This shows, therefore, that the PF government is committed to providing a constitution that will stand the test of time,” Dr Simbyakula said.
And before the vote, chairperson of the committee on legal affairs, governance, human rights and gender matters Cornelius Mweetwa said there is a thin line between the Constitution of Zambia Bill and the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill of 2015 which were both before Parliament for second reading.
Mr Mweetwa recommended that the Constitution of Zambia Bill be withdrawn.
And contributing to the debate, Mpongwe MP Gabriel Namulambe (PF) said it might not be wise for anyone of the members of Parliament to think of withdrawing the Bill because “we may be irrelevant in the eyes of the general public if everything is lost”.
And Chipata Central MP Mutolo Phiri (MMD) told the House that the former ruling party will not allow the constitution-making process to collapse and the party decided to support it.
Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Chishimba Kambwili, Monze Central MP Jack Mwiimbu (UPND), and Mazabuka MP Gary Nkombo also contributed to the debate.