Opposition plans protest over constitution delay

[Zambia] Levy Mwanawasa.
The editor of The Post newspaper may face charges for insulting President Mwanawasa (IRIN)

Zambia's main opposition, the United Party for National Development (UPND), will demonstrate against the government's decision to delay a new constitution until after elections in 2006.

"We are planning to stage non-violent demonstrations with civil society throughout the country because of President Mwanawasa's recent statements that we cannot demonstrate against his decision to enact the new constitution in 2008," UPND spokesperson Patrick Chisanga told IRIN.

"We believe it is the constitutional right of all Zambians to demonstrate in a peaceful manner. He [Mwanawasa] has shown a lack of willingness to negotiate, and respect for the will of the people," he added.

Addressing a rally in Zambia last week, Mwanawasa reportedly said he would take action against those who promoted "anarchy" and "violence" in pressing for the elections to be held under a new constitution.

"If you think you can promote anarchy and violence, then I will ensure that you are caged. I make this solemn pledge the same way I swore on the Bible to protect this country," Mwanawasa was quoted as saying.

The opposition and civil society in Zambia have been arguing for constitutional reform aimed at protecting civil liberties and reducing what they call the "excessive powers" vested in the office of the president.

"We want the new Constitution enacted before the 2006 general elections as, in terms of the current constitution, we do not have the space to campaign freely," Chisanga said.

The NGOs and the opposition both want the views of the people to be vetted by a more representative Constituent Assembly (CA), rather than the current Constitutional Review Commission (CRC). Their rejection of the process is largely due to concerns that most of the CRC commissioners are presidential appointees, and that Mwanawasa has the power to reject the commission's recommendations.

Mwanawasa's government has repeatedly dismissed the proposed CA as overly "expensive, cumbersome, and lacking the legitimacy" that the government enjoys by virtue of being elected.

Lucy Muyoyeta, chair of the Non Governmental Organisations' Coordinating Council (NGOCC), an umbrella body for NGOs working on gender and developmental issues, said their affiliates supported the demand for the enactment of the new constitution before the elections and the call for peaceful demonstrations, but was still consulting with its affiliates about joining the UPND's protest.

This is the fourth time Zambia is reviewing its constitution since independence from Britain in 1964.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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