On January 5 this year, Edgar Lungu appended his signature to give the presidential assent to the current Constitution of our Republic. A lot of taxpayers’ money was spent for that ceremony. Busloads of cadres from all parts of the country converged in Lusaka for that ceremony. Less than 10 months, Edgar is back asking the Zambian people to make many and fundamental changes to the same Constitution at another expense. We know we can be easily told not to worry about money because si ndalama zathu; si ndalama za nyoko. But the big issue is really not money. There are some fundamental principles that need to be observed before any changes are made to the constitution. Changing or amending the constitution is such an important issue, so fundamental to the nation, that any change must be done with cold reason, dispassion, uninvolvement. No one involved in the change should personally benefit as that will colour their decision. It must be prospective only, applying to those in the future.
You don’t change or amend a constitution to suit a particular moment, you do it to set the foundation of a society. If the constitution is changed like shirts or dresses, or abandoned and flashed like toilet tissue, then of what value is it? If the constitution is changed to give its leader a long term, then the next leader will get it too – and he or she may be a bad leader you can’t get rid of for now even longer.
A constitution is the lifeblood of a nation, you don’t play around with it to suit a political moment. In fact, any change to the constitution should not be left to the whims of the politicians in power or dominating parliament. It should be through a well-constituted and represented constitutional convention if true independence of the decision is to be achieved.
If Edgar was a bit more serious, he would have seen the consequences of the document he was assenting to be the Constitution of our Republic. At that time, what mattered to Edgar was to demonise Wynter Kabimba, as Michael Sata’s justice minister, who had denied them a new constitution. Edgar quickly rushed into having this constitution without even reading it properly and understanding its contents. Edgar is not dull. If he had put other interests and expediencies of the moment aside and tried to understand the document, he would not have rushed into making it the supreme law of the land. But at that time, all that mattered to Edgar was to be President and to outdo his political competitors. We see no other reason why Edgar rushed to pass that document and assent to it as the Constitution of our Republic. Just a few months after that, today this same Edgar is telling the Zambian people there is need to amend the constitution further to remove lacunas. Why did he fail to see the lacunas before signing the document in January? Edgar had a whole horde of experts, including his then justice minister Dr Ngosa Simbyakula, to spot these lacunas and accordingly advise him on how to proceed. The truth is it is not the lacunas they want to address. There are articles of this Constitution that seem to threaten their hold on power and their future political survival that they want changed.
For sure, one of the things they want to address is Edgar’s eligibility to stand in the 2021 elections. They want to clean up this constitution to ensure that there is nothing in his way to contest the 2021 presidential elections and give himself a third term of office. They also want to remove the 50 per cent plus one hurdle. They have also realised that they have expanded the judiciary beyond what the Treasury can sustain. So, for both financial and political reasons, they are trying to find a way to abolish the Constitutional Court. They have challenges with patronage after the abolition of the position of deputy minister. Theirs is a political system that is totally anchored on patronage – on how many jobs the President has to give to maintain loyalty and support. Right now, there is a serious fight for government jobs or positions within the Patriotic Front with most of its members of parliament being on the backbench. This doesn’t put the President in a very secure position in Parliament as the backbenchers can rebel any time and do their own thing. For this reason, they want to amend the constitution and bring back the position of deputy minister.
Should the Zambian people, for these reasons, accept the amendment of the constitution? Definitely not! Yes, Edgar may want to extend his rule beyond the five years permitted by the Constitution. But it shouldn’t be done in the way he wants it done. There is no justification for that. Edgar shouldn’t be allowed to do that for one simple, immutable reason: a constitution is supreme law of the land that can’t be changed at the whims of one individual no matter how popular or powerful he or she may be.
And anyway, does Edgar have the numbers in Parliament to carry out the constitutional changes he wants to make? If Edgar manages to win all the support of Patriotic Front, MMD, FDD and independent members of parliament, he will still need the support of at least three members of parliament from the UPND. How possible will that be? They seem to be confident that they can buy the support of at least three UPND members of parliament from Copperbelt rural, Central Province, Lusaka Province or someone from North Western Province. They believe there will always be some weak souls to buy or purchase to enable them achieve their political goals. If this is so, then the Zambian people who are opposed to what they are trying to do must start mobilising themselves and others.