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Calls Rise For Release Of Zambia's Delayed Constitution

posted 12 Mar 2014, 08:35 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 12 Mar 2014, 08:36 ]

Zambia's opposition and civil society are spearheading a push for the publishing of a new constitution that they say has been long delayed in the interests of those in power. The government says the draft needs further scrutiny.

 LUSAKAZAMBIA (REUTERS) -  Tensions are rising in Zambia over a delay in releasing a new constitution. President Michael Sata pledged to overhaul the set of laws and come up with a new "nationally acceptable" constitution within 90 days after he won elections in 2011.

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A technical committee was set up to work on a draft but Sata has been accused of delaying its release due to a proposal to curb powers of the president, seen in a document leaked to local publications earlier this year.

The proposals also demand that a candidate secure at least 50 percent of the vote to be elected.

"Overwhelmingly the people have spoken, so why stop them? Why stop them? Because we know the current constitution is faulty and that was acknowledged by the president himself, by the Patriotic Front party, so what has changed now that they are in power, that we are not even allowed to discuss it," said Beatrice Gillo, Chairperson Non Governmental Organisation Coordinating Council.

Sata swept to power on a Patriotic Front (PF) party ticket on a platform to defend workers' rights, create jobs - and pave roads. But over the years, the president - nicknamed "King Cobra" for his sharp tongue, has been accused of intimidation aimed at silencing his critics.

Sata says he is protecting the people of Zambia from forces that have "hijacked" the constitution making process and that it must first be studied by the cabinet.

Last week, Zambia's parliament was unable to hold proceedings after members walked out because their demand to be addressed on the constitution was turned down.

The Minister of Justice, Wynter Kabimba accused opposition party members of derailing the process and puts the blame of the constitution delay on members of parliament demanding its release through protests in parliament.

"These are the same groups of stakeholders who preach democracy and the rule of law to our people when it suits them. Until a new constitution is enacted, our three arms of government, that is the executive, the judiciary and legislature still rest on the provisions of the current constitution," Kabimba told journalists.

The government says it wants to dialogue with civil society, opposition political parties and the church over the constitution.

The opposition says the government has been heavy handed in dealing with questions over the delay and is deliberately stalling the constitution's release in the interests of those in power.

"Basic civil liberties, freedoms of speech, to hold a concience under the PF leadership is a crime. Citizens get detained for simply exercising their basic human rights, this is unacceptable. This is why we would like to bring about the new constitution and use the new constitution as a basis to bring about good governance, to bring about the rule of law and also separation of powers," said Hichilema.

On the streets of Lusaka calls for a new constitution are mounting.

"The people of Zambia were promised a new constitution by the PF government. Actually the actual time-frame they gave is that after 90 days of coming into power, they would deliver one, now its almost three years since they have been in power and nothing has come out so far," said Geoffrey ZyamboLusaka resident.

"That this country needs a new constitution because of quite a number of things that are happening now in the country that need to be changed through the constitution," Makokwa Daka, Lusaka resident.

Zambia is expected to hold national elections in 2016.