Our country has for a long time being driven under democracy yet since independence only one referendum has been held. This year Zambia will create history as we will vote for a referendum on 11th of August 2016 alongside the General Elections.
“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?” is this year’s question, well do I agree?
The Zambian constitution has defined the referendum as a vote in which citizens in a country are asked to give their opinion about or decide on an important political or social question that may lead to creation or removal of a law. A bill of rights is defined as is a list of the most important rights to the citizens of a country. Article 79 requires that a referendum be held where citizens are expected to vote if any alterations are to be done to part III of the constitution.
The referendum question is technical like most citizens have alluded, the two questions been phrased together makes one-part subject to the other but in order to make a proper, informed and positive decision one needs to weigh the advantages of voting either yes or no to the question.
Unlike the current constitution, the new proposed Bill of rights presents expanded civil and political rights with an inclusion of social, cultural and further and special rights to the Zambians, implying that the rights outlined in the new Bill will be able to cater for the rights of Zambians in a more all-inclusive manner.
The proposed bill of rights includes, Freedom of information bill and the freedom of the press, rights for the older members of society and well-articulated rights for the disabled, the marriage age has also been revised from 18 years to 19 years. It has also included environmental rights that entitle us to heathy and clean sanitation as well as children’s rights that entitle each child to education as well as many more needs.
Like Mainda Simataa, President of the Movement for Economic Freedom said, never ever must we ever consider repealing (deleting) or amending (changing)/replacing Article 79 of the Zambian constitution because it safeguards the sacred Bill of rights. To repeal Article 79 for whatever reason, as the referendum question states, would be tantamount to mass-suicide, it would be granting whichever party controls parliament the license and unlimited power to alter or take away our human rights without the obligation which article 79 has imposed on parliament, namely – to consult and get consent from over 50% of all Zambians aged 18 and above, and only via the referendum. Article 79 is what makes Zambia a democracy and not a dictatorship, and be reminded, the repeal of the Bill of rights is what opened the door for UNIP to declare Zambia a one party state, on the pretext that parliament needed unlimited powers to repossess land from the whites, which the whites had cleverly protected under part three of the Bill of rights – the one part which politicians have no power to change, unless they consult the people right to enter.
The referendum question says repeal and replace article 79 but what are we replacing the article with? Article 301 to 304 do not stipulate clearly the manner in which it will replace article 79. The proposal to repeal article 79 should be to make the referendum vote the final say and not parliament having the last say. Someone told me we should repeal the article because there has been low voter turnout making it impossible for a beneficial bill of rights to be enacted, well to me this is because people are not sensitized enough on what they will be voting for or against like a friend said “Better a ‘no’ or no vote to what you don’t know than ‘yes’ to what you might regret after you know”.
As stipulated the bill of rights contains clauses that will benefit Zambians at large but it contains unclear clauses. imprisoned personals forfeit their rights when the committee crimes that’s part of their punishment but why would we allow them to vote as stated in the proposed bill of rights, there many unclear clauses in the proposal. What is even more disheartening being that the Electro Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has not clearly explained the clauses to us. The comic book does not explain anything except the importance of voting neither does the advertisements on television nor the messages sent out via texts.
The dilemma now being should I say yes so we repeal article 79 and accept the bill of right despite the few unclear clauses? Or should I say no in order to maintain democracy and keep article 79 but lose an opportunity to have the freedom of information bill. I say people must vote NO to this referendum because nothing is clearly stated, the question is technical the bill is unclear and unexplained and no I don’t want to repeal or replace article 79 without having clear information on what will replace it plus I want to keep the only clause in the constitution that politicians cannot temper with.