Understanding the Bill of rights

ON August 11, 2016, the people of Zambia will go to the polls to vote in a referendum, on the Bill of Rights, apart from voting for the President, parliamentarians, executive mayors and councillors.
The referendum question to which voters will answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as formulated by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) reads: ‘Do you agree with the amendment to the Constitution to enhance the Bill of Rights in part 3 of the Constitution of Zambia and to repeal and replace article 79?”
What is a referendum?
A referendum can be defined as a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to vote on a particular proposal or proposed law.
A constitutional referendum was first held in Zambia 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 require only a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
The referendum was passed with 85per cent voting in favour of the change. Voter turnout was 69.5per cent.
According to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), over seven million voters are eligible to vote in the referendum.
What is the Bill of Rights?
A Bill of Rights is defined as a ‘declaration of fundamental rights and freedoms of the people.’
The Bill of Rights is sometimes referred to as the most important rights for the citizens of a country that require protection from infringement from public officials and private citizens.
The Bill of Rights also contains rights such as the right to education, health and freedom of association and assembly, among others.
It is against this background that the amended Constitution, which was assented to in January by President Edgar Lungu, left out contentious issues such as the Bill of Rights which are supposed to be voted for or against in the upcoming referendum to be held side by side with the August general polls.
However, some stakeholders have argued that few people know what is meant by the Bill of Rights or nor understand the provisions of article 79 of the Constitution of Zambia for them to vote properly come August 11.
Neo Simutanyi from Centre for Policy Dialogue says little attention has been paid to ensure that the issues to be decided upon are well-understood and making sure that the question is clear and simple to all Zambian eligible voters.
“There has been little or no consultation with stakeholders to ensure that the question to be put to the Zambian people is clear to facilitate a debate for and against the question. Unlike the practice elsewhere, the ECZ is not concerned with testing the referendum question as is standard practice in other countries, to ensure that it is simple and will not be confusing to the voters.
“Instead, for five months after the enactment of the amended Constitution, the ECZ and the Government did nothing and only released the referendum question a week before official nominations open,” Dr Simutanyi said.
Dr Simutanyi said: “The term Bill of Rights is not in common usage in Zambian jurisprudence. The heading to part 3 of the Constitution of Zambia of 1996 is ‘Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual.’
“The words Bill of Rights are new in our Constitution and are contained in the draft Constitution of Zambia Bill 2015. That said, there is need to define the meaning of Bill of Rights, its contents and provisions of article 79 of the Constitution of Zambia of 1996,” he said, adding that the new Constitution assented in January 2016 does not have part 3 and article 79.
Non-Governmental Organisation Coordinating Council (NGOCC) chairperson Sarah Longwe believes holding the referendum alongside the general elections will not be a good idea as the electorate would be confused with the process since they will also be voting for the President, Members of Parliament, executive mayors and councillors.
But President Lungu recently told would be voters and Patriotic Front supporters to vote ‘yes’ to the referendum question in order to put to rest the debate on the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in a new Republican Constitution.
Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) head of monitoring and evaluation division Salim Kaunda said the organisation would soon roll out a programme to help educate members of the public about the meaning of certain clauses in the amended Constitution.
Mr Kaunda said the PMRC would also take some time to explain the importance of voting in the referendum and the Bill of Rights.
“We are aware that most people, especially in rural areas, do not understand what a referendum is and why they should vote for or against the Bill of Rights.
“So we want to help them by going round the country to explain to them before elections,” he said.
The back now stops on various stakeholders such as the media, civil society organisations, the ECZ and the State to ensure that the electorate is enlightened on what they will be voting for in the referendum and the Bill of Rights before August 11.

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com