WITH only 53 days left before the holding of the general election together with the National Referendum on August 11, 2016, very little has been done to sensitise the electorate on the contents of the Bill of Rights.
The importance of this exercise cannot be over-emphasised. It consummates the constitutional-making process.
A referendum in simple terms is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to vote on a particular proposal. In the case of the August 11th National Referendum, the vote is anticipated to result in the adoption of a new law, that is, the Bill of Rights, and the repeal of Article 79 in the 1996 Republican Constitution.
On Friday, the 23rd May, 2016, the Referendum Question was published in the Zambia Government Gazette: “Do you agree to the amendment to the Constitution to enhance the Bill of Rights contained in Part III of the Constitution of Zambia and to repeal and replace Article 79 of the Constitution of Zambia?”
We observe with dismay that there is very little sensitisation being done by the civil society, faith-based organisations and political parties to ensure the electorate are well informed on the contents of the Bill of Rights.
Much as the onus to conduct such awareness campaigns should be pioneered by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) by virtue of being legally mandated to do so, there is urgent need for concerted efforts to champion this progressive exercise. Leaving it all up to the
Commission which is inundated with other tasks will not help matters. The failure to holding a successful referendum on 11th August shall mean failure by all, and not only the ECZ.
Of course, we applaud several initiatives the Commission has employed to foster civic education surrounding the referendum. Notable among them is partnering with some telecommunications mobile service providers such as ZAMTEL where text messages (SMS) are forwarded to all subscribers on a daily basis.
However, it is imperative that more needs to be done to educate the electorate on the contents of the Bill of Rights because what the ECZ has done this far is to release the subject document to the members of the public to read and inform them of the date on which the exercise would be conducted. But how many of our people know how to read, let alone understand the contents of the same? Only a paltry percent are in this position. This is worrisome.
The challenges may even be worse among majority of the rural electorate who have no idea about the Referendum. If the fairly educated do not know what the Referendum is all about, what more with the illiterate? Probably they have never heard about the Bill of Rights.
As a result, there is a likelihood for majority of the electorate to ignorantly vote ‘YES’ to mean ‘NO’ or vice-versa.
On this score, we concur with calls by the Zambia Direct Democracy Movement (ZDDM) for the ECZ to scale up awareness campaigns on the forthcoming Referendum exercise.
The need for an accelerated drive in this regard is dire because failure to hold a successful National Referendum shall have a consequential bearing on the constitutional making process on which colossal sums of taxpayers’ money has been expended.