Monday, 7 May 2012

Applauses, Disappointments and So-Sos' of the Draft Constitution

The draft constitution is finally here even though it is some 120+ days later than earlier promised.  Nonetheless, it is here and it is ready to be devoured. The government has made efforts to make the constitution readily available. It is easily downloadable online and it was printed in its entirety in the three daily newspapers- The Post, Times of Zambia and Daily Mail. However, despite government’s attempt to make the draft constitution accessible to the masses, the number of people who will actually sit down and read it will be very small. Sadly, the rest will depend on the hear-say, the columnists, opposition parties and anyone who is willing to share what they have read as the basis for their debates.
Typically I would not have bothered with the constitution because I would have considered it as a boring exercise when I would have been reading one of the novels that are waiting for me. However, as a blogger I thought I owe it to my readers to give them my opinion on the draft constitution and more information for their debates. Therefore, I picked out some interesting highlights that I was able to note. The views are strictly my interpretation of what I read.

·         Dual Citizenship- This is one of the inclusions in the constitution that I was looking forward to and I am so glad that is has been included. It is not that I am planning to export myself, proudly Zambian. However, it finally allows those individuals who have Zambian heritage but have lived abroad for a long time to still feel that they are part of this country. Zambia will only stand to benefit from this gesture.
·         50%+1- The previous elections have been won by simple majority. This simply means that the person with the highest percentage becomes president. The problem that this has caused is that the votes have been rather divided into bits and pieces. The 50%+ 1 will allow for a runoff between the top two and the president will be the one who gets more than 50% of the votes. This I think will allow political parties to have more concrete policies and avoid this character assassination that arises during elections, because they may need each other to attain the 50%+ 1.
·         Election Date- It is about time the date of the election is enshrined in our constitution. General elections will be held on the last Thursday of September after the last general election. This prevents hoping and guessing games when the incumbent president will declare the date of the election. This will enable political parties to plan their campaigns around the date.
·         Swearing In of the President- This is a very welcome clause. There has been a tendency of swiftly swearing in the President once the election results have been announced. This therefore makes petitions void and useless. However, the inclusion that  the President-elect shall be sworn into office on the Tuesday following, the fourteenth day after the date of the declaration of the elections results, if no  petition has been filed under Article 101 (2)… will ensure that all grievance are addressed.
·         Paternity Leave- I know this may sound like a trivial issue to some, but as women are pushing for gender equality paternity leave needs to be considered. The woman did not father the child on her own therefore she should not be the only one to take care of the child alone. The father must be involved in caring of the child once the baby is born, hence the reason for adequate paternity leave.
·         Capital Punishment- Zambia has not executed anyone for the past 15 years. This form of punishment is being considered as barbaric around the world and some nations have already scrapped it off. Personally I feel that Zambia should also scrap the capital punishment and instead give life sentences without parole or pardon. It is a greater punishment to be imprisoned for life in our prisons than executed.
·         Gender Based Violence- It is no longer news or surprising that someone has been battered to a pulp or has been killed at the hands of a lover. The trend has been that women withdraw cases with the police if they are reported at all. I would have wanted the constitution to take more affirmative action towards gender based violence. For example investigation to be taken once a report is made.
·         Death during Riots- This was my interpretation the moment I read this clause. The clause says, “A person shall not be regarded as having intentionally deprived another person of that person’s life if the other person dies as a result of the application of force to such extent as is reasonably justifiable- (c ) For the purpose of suppressing a riot….” This simply means that if someone is trigger happy they can get loose during a riot and have a defence. Beware UNZA and CBU students.
·         President’s Power- The president is still bestowed with so much power. The president has his/her hands in the legislature, executive and judiciary. This begs the question whether these organs can really act independently without the influence of the president. Even though there are proposals that the national assembly needs to approve some of the appointments and decisions the fact that the ruling party mostly has more seats in the house means that agendas can be easily pushed along.
·         Christian Nation- I have no problem with maintaining Zambia as a Christian nation. However, my belief is that if we declare ourselves to be a Christian nation we should not be selective in which Christian tenets we will choose to follow and which we will give a blind eye to. The most ironic one of all in this constitution is the maintaining of capital punishment in the constitution. Who are we to take someone’s life?
·         Vice- President As Running Mate- I am on the fence on the Vice-President being a running mate to the President. On one account it is good because it will provide some stability in the event that the President dies or when the Vice-President has to take up the president’s duty. The dilemma is for the President to select a vice president who will appeal to the masses as much as he/she does.
·         Resignation of MPs- The resignation of MPs so that they stand on another political party has cost the country dearly. Money is being spent on by-elections. A clause has been included in this regard but it is not clear. The clause states “Where the seat of a Member of Parliament, who is not an independent member is vacated in terms of clause (2), the Electoral Commission shall submit to the Speaker the name of the next preferred candidate of the party that holds the seat in the National Assembly, from the ballot paper used in the previous election.” Based on my understanding, is if a seat is vacated for whatever reason the party that holds the seat will then choose someone to take up that seat. The part that is unclear is where the ballot paper used in the previous election comes in. I would have hoped to see a clause that states that if a person who is duly elected chooses to resign as MP they cannot stand again until the next general elections.
·         Grade 12 certificate- The minimum qualification a President or MP is supposed to have is a grade 12 certificate. A grade 12 certificate? Seriously. I know that there are few good leaders who only have a grade 12 certificate and they are doing a tremendous job. However, I do not think a grade 12 certificate will give someone a perspective of national affairs. There is a risk that the person might be narrow-minded. I would have suggested a tertiary qualification. This is because a tertiary qualification provides someone a different point of view and also encourages logical thought.
A clause in the constitution says, “A citizen shall endeavour to acquire basic understanding of this Constitution and promote its ideals and objectives.” I believe that I have done my duty by reading the draft constitution and every Zambian should do the same. There is a whole lot of information in the draft constitution and I have only highlighted a minute fraction of it. The constitution is not for your neighbour, politicians or lawyers, it is for every citizen. The sad part is that many people will continue to debate the constitution aggressively and with vigour and yet they have not even read a single clause. I would therefore, urge you that if you have not read the constitution take time to do so, it is worth it.

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