HONE SIAME, Kitwe
AN understanding of the contents of the proposed Bill of Rights by Zambians will be key to realising fundamental economic, social and cultural rights.
This is what will be at stake when the country holds its referendum alongside the general elections on August 11.
Zambia will be holding a referendum to agree or disagree to the amendment of the Bill of Rights contained in part three of the Constitution and repeal and replace Article 79 of the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights, which affirms the democratic values that border on human dignity, are fundamental to democracy and constitutionalism and are the basis for Zambiaâ€™s social, political, legal, economic and cultural policies and State action.
Under the current law, a referendum can only be validated or accepted if 50 percent of the total number of eligible citizens cast their votes.
According to the Central Statistical Office, over seven million Zambians are eligible to vote in the August 11 referendum to be conducted by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) as mandated by the Constitution.
According to the Constitution, any alterations in the Bill of Rights and Article 79 requires a referendum where citizens are given the opportunity to either agree or disagree to the amendment through a referendum question relating to the Bill of Rights and the article in question.
The referendum requires sincerity among all political players participating in next monthâ€™s general elections by giving their supporters correct information on this important national programme.
It is a national undertaking which will provide a golden opportunity for citizens to enhance their economic, social, cultural and environmental rights so that they can have a say on the utilisation of public resources.
ECZ public relations manager Cris Akufuna is cautioning eligible citizens against voting on partisan lines but seize the opportunity to advance their fundamental rights and liberties that every human being is entitled to.
â€œThe Bill of Rights is a set of legal guarantees set out within the Constitution to protect fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals. This is a non-political issue, which every Zambian must support,â€ Mr Akufuna says.
The Law Association of Zambia, Transparency International Zambia and Civil Society for Poverty Reduction have also endorsed the proposed Bill of Rights, describing it as progressive.
Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Nkole Chishimba has equally urged Zambians to put aside their partisan interests and vote for the adoption of the expanded Bill of Rights by voting â€˜Yesâ€™ in the referendum.
While some political parties such as the United Party for National Development (UPND) are urging their supporters to vote â€˜Noâ€™, the labour movement believes it will not be in the interest of the country for citizens to vote on partisan lines in an exercise aimed at advancing their rights.
â€œWe are for the expanded Bill of Rights because it will enhance peopleâ€™s political, social and economic rights. We are appealing to Zambians who are eligible to vote in the referendum not to vote on partisan lines,â€ Mr Chishimba says.
The ZCTU president wants political parties to use the remaining time to step up their sensitisation campaigns through rallies and meetings to accurately explain the content of the proposed constitutional amendment so that eligible voters can understand what they will be voting for in the referendum.
Information is indeed an important ingredient in decision-making at all levels and Mr Chishimbaâ€™s plea to political leaders, civil society organisations and the church to educate Zambians on the referendum, cannot be overemphasised.
What is a referendum?
A referendum is a form of election where citizens are given an opportunity to approve or reject a proposed law that will provide guidance to the government.
It gives an opportunity to all eligible citizens to directly decide through a â€œYesâ€ or â€œNoâ€ vote on a particular referendum question given.
The August 11 referendum will give citizens chance to decide whether the Bill of Rights under part three of the Constitution should be altered and enhanced and also decide whether or not to repeal and replace Article 79, which talks about the alteration of the Constitution.
Requirement to vote in the referendum
To qualify to vote in next monthâ€™s referendum, one should be a Zambian citizen and in possession of a green national registration card (NRC), and be 18 years or above at the time of voting. Eligible voters in this referendum are those who were born on or before August 11, 1998.
â€œDo you agree to the amendment to the Constitution to enhance the Bill of Rights contained in part three of the Constitution of Zambia and to repeal and replace Article 79 of the Constitution of Zambia?â€
Voting â€œYesâ€ means agreeing or accepting to the proposed amendments to the Bill of Rights and repealing and replacing Article 79. Voting â€œNoâ€ will mean the current Bill of Rights and Article 79 should remain unchanged.
If the referendum succeeds, the enhanced Bill of Rights and the revised Article 79 will be taken to Parliament for enactment into law.
What is a Bill of Rights?
A Bill of Rights is a set of legal guarantees that is set out within the Constitution to protect fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals.
These guarantees and freedoms include the right to life, equality of both gender, economic and social rights, consumer rights, rights of children, right to education, health and freedom of association and assembly, rights of street children, freedom of conscience and belief of religion.
Most of the outlined rights are silent in the 1996 Constitution.
The proposed Bill of Rights, which encompasses economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, shall be the basis of Zambiaâ€™s social, political, legal, economic and cultural policies and State action if adopted.
With the establishment of the Constitutional Court, the expanded Bill of Rights under Clause 57 allows an aggrieved party to sue the offending party to seek redress.
Zambians have chance to enhance their social, economic, cultural and environmental rights in the expanded Bill of Rights that guarantees every citizen to be afforded conditions under which they are able to meet their needs.
Cultural rights relate to art and culture whose objective is to guarantee that people and communities have an access to culture and can participate in the culture of their choice while environmental rights are about protection of natural resources.
â€œIt also has a provision for special rights meant to protect the interests of older members of society, children, youths and persons with disabilities. They further protect the rights relating to marriage and family,â€ Mr Akufuna says.
A constitutional referendum in Zambia was first held on June 17, 1969.
The referendum proposed amending the Constitution to remove the requirement for future amendments of clauses protecting fundamental rights to go to a public referendum, and instead required only a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
The referendum, which had 65.5 percent voter turnout, was passed with 85 percent voting in favour of the change.
According to the Referendum Act, the President, by statutory order, directs that a referendum be held on any issue, and the Act states that the President shall specify the date or days on which the referendum shall take place.
President Lungu has done just that and the onus is now on Zambians to vote for â€œYesâ€ to enhance their fundamental rights in the amended Constitution.
Bill of Rights: Going beyond party lines
HONE SIAME, Kitwe