The Zambian Referendum Explained.
THE news that the Referendum to usher the Bill of Rights in the amended Constitution and Article 79 has failed to meet the threshold, is very sad.
Though the amended Constitution is now operational, it can only be complete once citizens enjoy their rights as enshrined under the Bill of Rights.
The failure, therefore, of the Referendum means that citizens have no recourse to the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights in the amended Constitution still remains far out of reach for majority.
According to available statistics, there are 7,528,091 eligible voters and for the referendum to have succeeded, votes had to be at a threshold of 3,764,046. The total number of votes cast were 3,345,471, out of which 1,853, 559 were “ Yes” votes and the “ No” votes were found to be 753,549. Rejected votes numbered 739,363.
The drafters of the amended Constitution found it fit to expand the Bill of Rights by including more rights like social, economic, political and cultural so that some of the marginalised groups like women and the youth could have a better quality of life.
Life is dynamic. New trends in various spheres of life are ever evolving. It was for this reason that it was found fit to expand the Bill of Rights to enhance the interests of women, children and the youth, a measure which has been hailed as progressive by a number of interest groups.
For example, the Bill of Rights gives an individual the power to take Government to court if it fails to provide for its citizens school or other such services.
This is a progressive approach to enhancing development because Government, on its part, will provide school infrastructure so that no child is without a school place.
This is what we are beginning to see. Government is building a number of schools to provide places for the many children whether in the urban or rural areas.
But the failure of the Referendum vote means that there is no basis on which an aggrieved individual can launch their complaint.
We should also bear in mind that there is so much that went into preparing for the Referendum.
To see the Referendum fail at this stage is a waste of those resources.
It is common knowledge that some of the funds that went into preparing for the Referendum came from our well- wishers – the donors.
They have helped our country through thick and thin.
They are interested in enhancing democratic governance and that is why they can give some of their resources for such causes.
But the turn of events is bound to dampen their zeal to assist us again. We should realise they also have need for that money they give us. It now places us in an awkward position to go back to them for assistance on the same cause.
Considering the time at which the Referendum was held, it was made a political issue when in fact it should have been seen to be for the good of all.
Those who opposed the Referendum only have themselves to blame for this mess. They will have to wait longer to begin to enjoy the benefits accorded by the Bill of Rights. It was a plain contradiction for politicians to promise the marginalised bread and butter while at the same time campaigning against the Referendum.
If the opportunity arises again, there must be wellspelt out sensitisation strategy and politicians must be honest.
With the failure this time around, it means there is more work to do. Government should work with various non- governmental organisations to spread the word.
Political parties should keep politics out of the Referendum whose intended goal is to benefit every Zambian.
For now, it’s a lost opportunity.