Some three weeks ago, we introduced a radical idea for rallying the country to elect an independent president in 2016 who would be tasked with the primary responsibility of overseeing the enactment of a people-driven constitution and then calling for fresh elections after a period of 9 months (assuming all necessary steps could be taken within that time). We have called this the “Blueprint for the Restoration of Zambian Democracy”. We launched the Blueprint because, just as with politicians that were in power before them, it has become abundantly clear that the Patriotic Front administration has no intention of enacting a people-driven constitution and that they intend to use the power of incumbency to prevent the Opposition from effectively campaigning against them. For this – and other reasons set out below – a more inclusive constitution is necessary to ensure participatory and meaningful development of all communities in Zambia.
The Blueprint has generated many different responses from various quarters. A number of initial reactions were based on a misunderstanding of what we are proposing with some commentators wrongly assuming that we are calling for fresh elections before 2016 or asking the republican president to resign.
Notwithstanding the initial confusion, many reactions have been positive while others have ranged from knee-jerk (who is he kidding, it just can’t work), emotional (NAREP did not support the Opposition Alliance so we will not support the idea of an interim president in 2016), cautious (the idea may be good but should only be considered when a nation is in crisis), nervous (why is he coming up with this now – is it because he does not want a particular party to win?), cynical (he wants the presidency for himself), scaremongering (this is unconstitutional – a coup d’etat), to casual indifference (this idea is not rooted in reality).
Of all these reactions, none has been able to successfully demonstrate that the Blueprint is either against the law or cannot work; they have merely ventured somewhat hasty opinions to this effect. As we advance the idea of the Blueprint, two major challenges confront us: (a) how Opposition political leaders can be convinced to temporarily put aside their partisan ambitions to allow an interim non-partisan leader to take up the presidency for a limited time in order to enact a new constitution; and (b) how we can provide adequate safeguards to minimise the risk that the interim president would refuse to give up power at the appointed time.
We believe that these challenges can be addressed and will shortly set out a roadmap as to how this can happen. However, when one pares all the negative responses down to their bare essentials, it becomes clear that one thing will prevent the Blueprint from being effectively implemented: the lack of a sense of selflessness from key stakeholders.
This question of selflessness goes to the very heart of what is at stake in Zambian politics today. For years now, politician after politician has promised to deliver a people-driven driven constitution to the citizens of our land. Many have even based their campaigns on such an undertaking only to let the people down once elected into office. For the past 50 years, we have failed to put in place a lasting constitutional framework, largely because those that have the power to enact one have always found themselves seeking to balance national interest against narrow personal and partisan pursuits.
Political parties exist to win power and when they get it, they do everything to hold onto it. Asking them to relinquish control through the enactment of a people-driven constitution that would have the effect of reducing their power is tantamount to asking them to deny the very basis on which they exist. Few have such a high concern for the nation at heart. It should therefore surprise no one that the PF are dragging their feet over the new constitution. It should also send a clear message to everyone that we need a new approach; a different solution to how we bring about the constitutional change as well as the national development we so badly need.
It is important to bear in mind that those that are part of and close to the ruling elite and who are no doubt benefitting during these times of a directionless economy, violence, and hardship for the ordinary Zambian, will have a vested interest in maintaining things as they are. Clearly they will be in no hurry to demand a new constitution or to promote any idea that will bring much needed change.
It is also important to appreciate and understand that there will be those with long-standing political aspirations who may feel that they have waited too long to give up the chance of coming to power now, rather than wait an extra year or two to have a new constitution in place that would create a level playing field for all participants. This group would have us believe that they will give the people a new constitution when they wrestle power from the incumbents and that all this talk of an interim administration is misplaced. It will be for the Zambian people to determine the genuineness of such a claim, given our poor experience so far with fulfilment of political promises.
The Blueprint is designed to bring the nation together in a way that avoids the hostile bickering that tends to accompany political alliances in Zambia. It is designed to overcome the mistrust that exists between political actors and their respective supporters. If handled correctly, it will allow the combined effort of all those that are genuinely seeking a fresh start for the country, to consolidate their numbers in order to ensure that a new constitution is enacted through a neutral (i.e. non-partisan) presidential candidate.
We must never lose sight of the fact that although, on the face of it, this is a debate about the constitution; it is really a deeper discussion about development and the things that have stood in the way of taking our nation to the place God always intended for it to be. Caring leadership, decent education, accessible quality healthcare, durable roads, clean water, basic sanitation and decent jobs have been denied to ordinary citizens largely because of the concentration of power and abuse of authority that has been made possible by a weak constitution.
As a nation, we have been trying for the better part of 50 years to put in place a constitutional framework that will stand the test of time. On each occasion, we have fallen short. We have instead ended up enacting a document that leaves far too much power in the hands of a few people and relying on those very people to handle that power responsibly without having any effective means to hold them accountable for their actions. The result has been widespread abuse of power, corruption and restriction of democratic rights and freedoms. The effect this has had on our development is enormous. It is why poverty levels and deep inequality have remained stubbornly high in spite of all the economic gains the country has made in the last 20 years.
The Blueprint really centres around responses to three questions:
1. Does Zambia need a new constitution now or should we be focusing instead on development?
Zambia needs a new constitution urgently. The lack of more meaningful development is directly linked to the abuses that politicians have been able to get away with as a result of a weak constitution. The lack of a good constitution has meant that politicians in power have focussed more on using state power to advance themselves, their families and their parties, rather than to promote the development of all citizens, regardless of ethnic origin or political affiliation.
2. Is the PF likely to enact a people-driven constitution?
It should be clear to anyone that has followed this issue that there is no intention whatsoever on the part of the PF to enact a constitution that reliably conforms to the true will of the people. The combined effort of previous constitution review commissions as well as the broad district consultations undertaken nationwide by the PF-appointed Technical Committee have delivered the most representative document to date. However, because the draft document will have the effect of putting the PF at a disadvantage in the general elections, they are not prepared to bow to the will of the people.
3. Are current efforts to put pressure on the PF likely to deliver an acceptable constitution prior to 2016?
The Grand Coalition for the enactment of a new Constitution (made up of civil society and the majority of opposition parties), has taken the lead in putting pressure on the PF administration to implement all the steps necessary to enact a new constitution. This approach requires the PF to consent to certain demands. At the moment, the PF is clearly playing for time. They claimed at one point that the draft document prepared by the Technical Committee was lost or had not been delivered; they have neglected to appoint a referendum commission as stipulated by the terms of reference they themselves had issued when appointing the Technical Committee; and in a complete reversal of their campaign commitments, their most senior party officials have expressed public doubt about some of the most contentious provisions such as a presidential running mate and the need for a presidential candidate to obtain more than 50% of the ballots cast.
The most recent argument from the PF is that they would rather devote funds to developing the country’s infrastructure and when reminded that there are nations willing to finance the constitution making process, they have simply turned a deaf ear to such proposals.
The PF know that there is limited time within which to achieve a desired outcome and will continue to use this to their advantage. We therefore need a back-up plan that can also serve as a major threat to the PF, should they continue to refuse to accede to the people’s demands.
It is for this reason that we are urging a selfless discussion and a united approach that will not rely on current partisan agendas. If in fact the Blueprint is too hard to implement, let us fully explore and understand why. If indeed it cannot be made to work, let us hear alternative options rather than defeatist agendas. It is time for a new approach, new ideas and a new outcome for Zambia; not one that is based on tried, tested and selfish ideas of the past.
Elias C. Chipimo
National Restoration Party
30 May 2014