The Referendum

ZAMBIANS should start reading the contents of the Bill of Rights which is the reason for the National Referendum on August 16 so that they can make an informed choice instead of falling into the trap of debating how long the referendum question is.

The Referendum question is indeed long but it cannot override the importance of the contents of the Bill of Rights.

“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?” so goes the question.

Surely, should this question requiring a YES or NO overshadow the main task of scrutinizing the human rights clauses in the proposed Bill of Rights?

Zambians should not make the same mistake they made when they were debating the draft Constitution of Zambia Bill.

Members of civil society, most parliamentarians and ordinary Zambians concentrated on the mode of coming up with new laws instead of the contents.

Some stakeholders argued about whether the amended Constitution should be adopted by a Referendum or through piece meal amendments.

Even when the document was tabled before Parliament, the same song continued.

The results of discussing the mode of coming up with the amended Constitution is now very clear to all.

Some of the Members of Parliament came out in the open confessing their ignorance of some clauses such as the Grade 12 qualification as a requirement to stand for elective office.

Some of the political parties represented in Parliament also complained about the 1,000 supporters needed for a presidential candidate to stand for elections.

This episode should not be allowed to repeat itself in the Bill of Rights debate.

We agree with United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator Janet Rogan that the Referendum to amend the Bill of Rights should not be a partisan or Government issue.

The proposed amendment is about enhancing people’s rights.

The document has so far been published in the State-owned newspapers and even on the Electoral Commission of Zambia website.

This is the same document which went to provincial and district Government offices when then Justice Minister Edgar Lungu released it in 2014.

While it is the duty of Government to explain the implication of a YES or No vote, learned Zambians with access to the Bill of Rights should take time to share their knowledge with those who have not had sight of the document.

Eligible voters who are 18 years or above who possess the green national registration card (NRC) should be encouraged to vote in the referendum.

Those with convincing reasons why the Bill of Rights should not be supported through a NO vote should explain their reasons for taking such a stance to eligible voters.

Those advocating a YES vote should do likewise. This is what we call a healthy democracy.