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Sunday, 16 January 2011

Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010: Part IV

Qualifications of Parliamentary Candidates

Article 66 deals with qualifications of members of National Assembly :
(1) Unless disqualified under clauses (2) and (3), a person shall be eligible to be elected as a member of the National Assembly if that person—
(a) is a citizen of Zambia;
(b) is not less than twenty-one years;
(c) is registered as a voter;
(d) has obtained, as a minimum academic qualification, a grade twelve school certificate of education or its equivalent; and
(e) declares that person’s assets and liabilities as provided under this Constitution and by, or under, an Act of Parliament.
The failures under Article 66 mirror those relating to qualifications of presidential candidates. We therefore wont repeat the discussion except to make very brief observations.

Article 66, Clause (5) prevents chiefs from being elected as members of parliament. We will return to that provision under a separate review that will look at how chiefs are treated under the provisions. Suffice to say I regard this issue as more complicated than it has been potrayed by some commentators. My previous thoughts on this are set out under Chiefs and Politics : Towards Free Participation? His Royal Highness Mwamba Kanyanta-Manga II has also provided good analysis of this issue - see Institutions of Chiefs At Crossroads.

On the main, a key point is that there are some interesting differences between "qualifications of presidential candidates" and "qualifications of MPs" as set out in the draft Constitution of Zambia Bill. Four stand out :

Difference 1:  Dual citizens cannot become Presidents but can become MPs. No explanation is available anywhere on why this difference exists.

Difference 2:  Candidates must be at least 21 to become MPs, but 35 years to become presidents. No rationale exists for these numbers or the differences between them. How did they reach 21? Why not 20 or 25 for MPs?

Difference 3: MPs must have at least a grade 12 certificate but presidents do not have to be educated at all. Again this inconsistency does not make sense to anyone. The only explanation is that when they got rid of the education provision for presidential candidates they forgot to do the same for MPs. Education provisions should be eliminated from all elected offices. That is the point of elections - people decide which law abiding candidate to choose. 

Difference 4: Chiefs are explicitly banned to become MPs, but not to become presidents. The key word there is "explicitly" because one might argue that actually chiefs are banned to run for presidential office under Article 176, Clause 1 which states, "A person shall not, while remaining a Chief, join or participate in partisan politics".  Except if that relates to a nebulous concept "partisan politics", which is not clear. We know Article 66 prevents independent "non-partisan" parliamentary candidate, but does Article 176 prevent a a presidential one?  Its one for the law courts, but the lack of precision in drafting is a cause for concern.

In general the differences highlighted above demonstrate a casualness in drafting of the legislation and the poverty of critical thinking that was exhibited at the NCC. It is vital that parliamentarians look not just at specific Article but across other provisions. If we are going to ask for qualifications for elected offices, let us be consistent about it. If we are going to ban chiefs, let us be clear on the criteria. Consistency does not mean uniformity, but it does require an explicit criteria. I don't see this in the current draft. 

The Zambian Economist is currently reviewing the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010 before it formally responds to the Legislature. All posts in this ongoing review can be found at the Constitution of Zambia page.

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