New constitution, new rumbles: for over four years now, Zambians have been embroiled in a protracted marathon to adopt the country's fifth constitution in just over 40 years of independence. The dispute is not over whether the country needs a new constitution, but how to have it. Reginald Ntomba reports from Lusaka.

Author:Ntomba, Reginald
Position:Feature
 
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In April 2003, the Zambian government appointed a Constitution Review Commission (CRC) to collect people's views on what type of constitution they wanted and to recommend the method of how it should be adopted.

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The current constitution, which was passed in 1996 by the government of former President Frederick Chiluba, has been condemned as defective, discriminatory, and said to have been adopted to serve the political interests of the Chiluba rule.

Some civic groups had opposed the appointment of the CRC, saying other bodies before had done similar work which had just been thrown to the wind. There have been three other CRCs before. However, the government had its way. On 31 December 2005, the CRC handed over the draft constitution and report to the government and the public simultaneously.

Then the bickering started. The CRC recommended a constituent assembly as the mode of adopting the constitution. The opposition and civil society cheered. But the government was averse, citing logistical and financial hurdles.

President Levy Mwanawasa told the nation how unprepared he was on spending millions of dollars on constitutional reforms amid high poverty levels. However, critics accused the government of exaggerating the cost, arguing that "a good constitution costs money" and that "democracy did not come cheap".

Others even went as far as stating that the high level of poverty in the country was a result of a weak constitution which did not hold the government accountable.

Last year, the opposition and civil society proposed amendments to the current constitution, including a contentious suggestion that a presidential candidate should win at least 50% of the electoral vote to qualify for State House. But Mwanawasa's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), bearing in mind its slim majority in Parliament, crushed the proposals, arguing that they were a duplication of what already existed in the draft constitution.

After the 2006 elections, the wrangling resumed and in early 2007, the government attempted to call a referendum over the constituent assembly. But civil society and the opposition dismissed the referendum as a wasteful exercise since the CRC had already recommended a constituent assembly. Civil society vowed to mobilise a mass campaign against the referendum if it went ahead. Taking a leaf from what happened in Kenya over a similar referendum, Mwanawasa abandoned the idea. The constitution process then...

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