THE opposition UPND has every right to demonstrate on an issue it feels very strongly about. This is part of the democractic dispensation enjoyed by citizens of this country.
We hope the police will not engender undue let and hindrance to this endeavour. Equally we hope the party will take criticism against the demonstration as a privilege enjoyed by those who feel compelled to exercise this right.
We are mindful of the accusation that we have turned against the UPND, although the recently released Independent Media Monitoring Report commissioned by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) on the presidential by election has reported that we provided the largest coverage to UPND president Hakainde Hichilema, above all other media.
We have nothing against demonstration, but we worry when such public manifestations are not given sufficient justification.
As the law currently stands, a referendum is required to change any part of the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights in our Constitution is contained in Part 3 and includes such fundamental rights as life, liberty, security, freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and other rights to property.
article 79 of the Constitution states that, and we quote “A bill for the alteration of Part 111 of this constitution or of this Article shall not be passed unless before the first reading of the bill in the National Assembly it has been put to a National referendum with or without amendment by not less than fifty percent of persons entitled to be registered as voters for the purpose of Presidential and Parliamentary elections.”
A referendum is not the mode of adopting a Constitution. It is the mode by which a section of the current Constitution, namely the Bill of Rights, can be amended. It has nothing to do with creating a new Constitution.
Ordinarily a referendum has one question to which voters must vote “yes” or “no”. Which draft Constitution has been accepted for adoption under this mode? The present draft has come under serious contention and is therefore unlikely to enjoy universal support. Those advocating for the referendum must explain how they will develop the final draft.
Having obtained such a draft how will the Constitution be enacted without going through the legislature?
Secondly the total population of Zambia is 15,473,905 and the population of those over 18 is 6,944,120 which is 44.9 percent of the population. The total number of those who voted in the last Presidential by election is 1,671,662. This means that an amendment can only effected if more than 3,450,000 people vote for it.
It is true there was apathy in the last election, but to envision that more than 2.5 million voters will turn up at the next elections may be over-optimistic, let alone the 3.4million.
This then brings the issue of the Bill or Rights in the overall context of the various amendments that Zambians want made to the constitution.
The UPND must explain to the nation the changes that will be made to the bill of rights to justify holding up all other immediate amendments that have been proposed in the draft Constitution.
Most important of all the UPND officials must convince the Zambian people about the link of the referendum to the constitution-making process, and why one must be accompanied by the other.