LUSAKA (AA) – Opposition parties in Zambia want the president’s “excessive” powers as laid down by the current constitution – which include the right to head up the government and appoint top government officials – curtailed on grounds that they give the executive an undue advantage over the judiciary and parliament.
“Such power undermines the principles of democracy inimical to national development,” Ludwig Sondashi, leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Alternatives (FDA), told Anadolu Agency in an interview in Lusaka.
“The only remedy is to create a provision in the constitution which will have some presidential powers removed and some given to the prime minister,” he insisted.
Under the country’s current constitution, the president is also the head of the government; has the power to appoint top government officials; and is accountable to no one.
Sondashi, who is also a constitutional lawyer, said these “excessive” powers served to put the president above the judiciary and the legislature.
He suggested adding a clause in the constitution stating that the government should be headed by a prime minister rather than a president.
“As head of state, the president will be responsible for the daily administration of the country; he will be non-partisan, whereas the prime minister will be responsible for political activities, including the appointment of cabinet [ministers] from outside parliament,” Sondashi told AA.
He said the president – who would be elected by parliament – should be responsible for the appointment of a prime minister drawn from the party that boasts a parliamentary majority.
“This will not only promote the much-desired checks-and-balances in government, but also encourage the three arms of government to exercise power control within government,” he explained.
“We want the constitution to encourage the three arms of government to exercise control of each other and practice the spirit of give-and-take required by the doctrine of separation-of-power,” the opposition leader asserted.
He went on to suggest that as long as Zambian presidents continued to serve as both head of state and government, they would continue to wield too much power – a state of affairs which, according to him, tended to foster dictatorial tendencies.
The opposition alliance is composed of six major political parties, which combined to form the majority in parliament.
Out of 150 elected MPs in 2011 elections, the opposition won 86 seats in parliament, while the ruling Patriotic Front won only 60. Four seats were not contested for unexplained reasons.
However, all the seats won by the opposition were later petitioned and the poll results nullified.
By-elections were subsequently called, which saw the opposition lose a number of its seats.
Currently, the opposition has 76 representatives in the assembly.
Sondashi said the opposition also wanted a clause in the constitution according to which a sitting president who has been declared incapable of leading the country due to ailment can resign – or hand over power to a deputy – without calling for snap polls.
“Sometimes the president will hang onto power due to unreasonable pressure coming from people, including members of his executive, who fear that the resignation of the president… would result in job losses if a new person is voted into office,” he told AA.
The constitutional lawyer said it was too costly to allow a sitting president who failed to perform his duties to continue holding the office.
“Allowing a president who fails to perform his duties to continue holding office is not only a sign of bad governance, but can also cost the country huge losses in terms of investment,” he added.
Sondashi said that national decisions would be delayed because the cabinet could not function without its head – who also happens to be a president who spends most of his time seeking medical attention.
“All these translate into… a huge loss, which can be avoided should an ailing president decide to step down to give way for his deputy,” he explained.
Michael Chilufya Sata of the ruling Patriotic Front became president in September 2011 after defeating incumbent president Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, which had ruled Zambia for 20 years.
Under the constitution, Sata is eligible for two five-year presidential terms.
The opposition has submitted the proposed constitutional clauses to the reform commission for inclusion in the national charter, which they hope will be enacted before 2016 polls.
They expect the government to act on these recommendations, among others, when drafting a new charter and putting it before a public referendum.
In the run-up to the 2011 elections, Sata had promised that his government would deliver a people-driven constitution within 90 days of his assumption of office.
He has appointed a constitutional committee tasked with looking into submissions by citizens in advance of presenting a draft constitution.
But the process has now gone on for over three years and Zambians have yet to receive a new national charter.
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