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Sunday, 2 November 2014

Is it time for Zambia to RESET?

The death of President Michael Sata has generated many questions from our readers. One of the questions we are being asked is this. Is it possible for the presidential by-election to be combined with the referendum on the draft constitution?

The simple answer is yes. There is nothing, in theory, that is stops the PF government from combining both events. However, the status of the draft constitution is that it is merely a draft document. Parliament has not sat to debate it nor have the public properly considered it. PF released the document under duress and offered no roadmap. Just when people started reading it President Michael Sata died.

To have a proper referendum there would need to be sufficient time for the various groups on either side of the debate (the Yes and No camps) to be properly funded and allow them to campaign. There us also need for parliament to review and edit parts of it. The document is quite flawed in many parts. The process cannot be rushed! 

One way to combine both events without rushing is to delay the presidential by-election to April 2015. This depends on there being broad consensus in the country. The people should be able to accept that proposal if it was properly explained.

Is delaying the election not illegal? Probably, but we have to remember that if elections are not held within 90 days there is little that anyone can do about it. The Constitution does not stipulate sanctions for not holding elections within 90 days. It is just a framework document. Therefore the matter would have to be taken to the High Court and then Supreme Court to determine.

Alternatively, the legal issues can be avoid by Parliament dissolving itself in January, which can then trigger another 90 days or more before the general elections can be held. That new 90 day plus clock would perfectly reset the electoral cycle i.e. elections are only held in 2015 and then 2020.  Most importantly it would ensure that elections are not held in the middle of the rainy season when it is difficult to access many parts of the country.

NAREP earlier this year put forward an interesting proposal that was shot down. There is probably merit to probably look at it again as another options within the context of what is noted above. There is no reason why the country cannot now take a pause and consider whether now is the time to reset the button. This is especially so given that there are no immediate sanctions for PF breaching the 90 days requirement. And the parliamentary dissoluton offers a legal way out to generate more days.

There is an opportunity for consensus politics here. Dr Guy Scott could help reshape Zambia positively. It is pregnant with opportunities. He will never be president again under the current constitution. But he can help give Zambia a new one. That is of course if he can rise above the immediate incentives working in the opposite direction among his colleagues. Many MPs would never accept dissolving parliament due to greed. And PF being in a stronger position to win in January 2015 may see little benefit in delaying the vote.

The other force working negatively may be foreign governments, multilateral institutions and NGOs. They may be too willing to offer financial help to Zambia in holding elections. Their logic may be that political certainty is better. But in doing so they may distort the incentives for Zambia to look long and hard at better solutions. What they should do is work with Zambia to help it consider these alternatives rather than going in foolhardy dangling cash to hold elections, as they have done in the past.

Of course we must always keep in mind the costs. Namely, the economic uncertainty such a process would create. Zambia is facing significant economic challenges at the moment. More uncertainty would be damaging. But surely the public deserves to have a debate to determine whether the short term costs may be worth the long term benefits. It is clear is that there is a lot of Zambians out there who long for the country to reset the clock! The real question is whether their voices will be heard in the middle of greedy politicians

Chola Mukanga
Economist | Researcher
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2014

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