Editor's Comment

Zambians need second chance on referendum

A SCOTTISH former professional road racing cyclist David Millar once said, “People do make mistakes and I think they should be punished. But they should be forgiven and given the opportunity for a second chance. We are human beings.”
Yes people do make mistakes and Zambians recently made one of the biggest mistakes in the country’s history by rejecting a proposal to enhance their civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
On August 11, 2016, Zambians were given an opportunity to vote in the referendum to allow for the amendment of the constitution to expand the existing rights.
However, the referendum failed to go through because it could not get the 50 percent participation threshold of eligible voters.
By not taking part in the referendum or indeed voting against the proposed amendment in the referendum, Zambians simply rejected their legal entitlement to enhanced education, health care, employment, clean and safe water, good sanitation, worship, freedom of expression and social security, among other fundamental rights.
This is a bitter pill to swallow for Zambians especially those who fully understand that the Bill of Rights is what Zambians need to guarantee their dignity irrespective of the regime in power.
The failed referendum also means that Zambians have no legal basis on which to demand for certain rights such as employment.
What is even more saddening is that a referendum is a very expensive venture and its failure therefore means that resources used all went down the drain.
While the law of justice may demand that Zambians are left to pay for their sins by closing the chapter on the referendum, we strongly feel there is need for a second chance, especially in view of some of the factors that surrounded the referendum.
We all know from the voting pattern that the referendum was highly politicised and partly because it was held alongside the general elections.
The major opposition political party, the United Party for National Development (UPND) in particular, took advantage of the loyalty and ignorance of some of its members to campaign against the referendum notwithstanding that it was meant to benefit every Zambian regardless of political affiliation.
As Zambians we need to mature in the way we conduct our politics to ensure that we do not disadvantage the very people we claim to want to serve.
While political parties may stand on different ideologies, there comes a time when they have to agree on certain issues because they serve their mutual interest, and that is the well-being of Zambians.
And the referendum was one such issue where we expected all political parties to find common ground because it was meant to give all citizens dignified lives.
It is therefore our hope that the electorate will be more assertive in future to avoid being duped of their fundamental rights by people they consider to be their leaders.
Local and international partners have given a gloomy picture on the likelihood of finding resources for another referendum, but it is our earnest appeal to cooperating partners to give Zambia a second chance.
But perhaps what we need now is for government, civil society, human rights activists, media and all other stakeholders to embark on massive sensitisations on what the referendum and Bill of rights is all about.
Ignorance and complexity of the subject contributed to the referendum’s failure.
The sensitisations should therefore delve into the content of Bill of Rights and unpack it for the common man to gain clear understanding.
We also agree with the Grand Coalition that Government should constitute a team of experts to address some of the unclear provisions in the Bill of Rights because this could have contributed to some people voting against the proposed Bill of Rights.
For now Government should work out a clear road map on holding an inclusive referendum while scouting for funds to ensure that the next referendum on the Bill of Rights is held as an independent poll.
One American politician Michael N Castle said: “If you ever get a second chance for something, you’ve got to go all the way.”
If and when the opportunity to hold another referendum is given, Zambians need to ensure they go all the way to guarantee their fundamental rights.

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