There is no longer doubt now that the 2016 general elections slatted for August 11 will be held under a substantially altered new constitution.
This follows President Edgar Lungu’s assenting to the Zambia Constitution Amendment Bill on January 5.
It is also expected that towards the end of 2016 Part III of the current constitution will also have been amended together with so-called contentious provisions proposed by the Technical Committee on drafting a new constitution headed by Justice Annel Silungwe.
However, there are both excitement and anxieties over the amendments and the road taken to achieve this.
There are those who believe the new constitution cures some of the ills experienced in the past, such as legitimacy of a president elected by less than 50 percent of the votes cast, replacement of a president who dies in office and the holding of by-elections every time a member of parliament ceases to hold office.
For instance some people see the 50 percent plus one vote threshold for election of a president as good because small political parties will be able to trade their support for influence of policies of those likely to win.
People’s Party President, Mike Mulongoti says no party will be able to win presidential elections singlehandedly and that, therefore, the big ones will need the support of smaller ones.
Others believe this will bring about political peace as parties coax each other for support, reducing political violence.
On the other hand some are unhappy that the new constitution provides for what might turn out to be expensive runoffs when no presidential candidate achieves more than 50 percent votes in his favour.
Many others are concerned that the provision for a running mate vice-president does not provide for separation when the number two and his boss are incompatible over serious policy issues.
Still others are concerned that the amendments had not been adopted by a popular body or through a referendum and wonder how the remaining parts, the so-called contentious draft provisions, such as provincial assemblies, will be dealt with under the referendum required to amend Part III and Article 79 of the current constitution.
In accordance with its election manifesto promise the Patriotic Front government appointed a team to draw up a draft constitution which it chose to enact it in piece meal – starting with non contentions draft provisions, leaving out the parts that constitutionally require a referendum in order to amend to later date.
The stand of the Grand Coalition, comprising some political parties, civil society and other nongovernmental organisations appears unchanged over holding of an adoption referendum, without scrutiny by a representative body.
It is not clear if the coalition rejects the new constitution and will campaign against the forthcoming referendum required under the current constitution in order to amend Part III and Article 79 or hopes to use it to seek the views of the electorate.
It is also not clear whether contentious draft constitutional provisions will be dealt with through the same referendum. The Electoral Commission of Zambia that has been appointed Referendum Commission has yet to clarify this matter.
However, it is clear that the referendum referred to in Article 79 concerns alteration to Part III and Article 79 itself.
It states,“A bill for the alteration of Part III of this constitution or this Article shall not be passed unless before first reading of the bill in the National Assembly it has been put to a National Referendum …”.
Further, at least 50 percent of the total number of people qualified to register as voters, not necessarily registered, estimated to be well over 6,000,000, must vote in favour.
One interpretation of this is that the purpose is to seek approval in principle – to alter Part III or Article 79.
This is viewed to be different from adopting an entire draft and all its provisions that might require specific questions on the ballot paper to deal with issues such as provincial assemblies or any other contentious draft provisions.
If, as appears to be the case, the same referendum will be used to adopt so-called contentious matters, the commission might have to explain whether there will be two ballot papers – one for the amendments to Part III and Article 79 and the other to deal with the contentions articles.
If only one ballot paper will be used for both, then ERC will have to explain the form of the question or questions on the ballot paper.
If the ballot paper will have several questions, many voters could find it difficult to follow them and make appropriate decisions.
In addition those who approve the current amendment bill might find no basis to participate in such an exercise, reducing the chances of achieving the threshold of 50 percent of people qualified to register as voters required both by the current constitution under Article 79 and the recently amended Referendum Act.
BY EMMANUEL NYIRENDA