Constitutional Court pours water on ‘Third –Term Debate’

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By Justin Mupundu

The Constitutional Court (ConCourt)’s recent landmark ruling that President Edgar Lungu is eligible to contest 2021 polls should rest the so-called  ‘Third-Term Debate’ which was deliberately orchestrated   to influence public opinion, and agitate for the incumbent’s exit from active politics as a smooth transition for regime change.

 

However, the ConCourt’s ruling on the case in question, which also generated public interest, will not only go down the annals of Zambia’s justice system as a sound judgment, set a precedence, builds on the professionalism and impartiality of Judges who presided over the case, but also Zambians have drawn lessons from the debate that was around political and not legal issues.

 

The debate was interesting as some arguments were based on the beliefs of the political divide one belongs to: Those opposed to President Lungu’s eligibility to contest 2021 polls argued that he has twice held office as President.

 

Their argument is based on the deliberately misinterpreted Article 106(3) of the current Constitution, which says that: “A person who has twice held office as President is not eligible for election as President.”

 

But the ConCourt agreed with the argument that President Lungu was eligible to contest the 2011 polls when it delivered the long -awaited judgment: President Lungu is currently serving his first term of office as the one, six months he served (from January 25, 2015 to August 11, 2016) after the demise of Michael Sata cannot be deemed to be a full term.

 

Article 106(6) says:” “If the Vice-President assumes the office of President, in accordance with clause (5) (a), or a person is elected to the office of President as a result of an election held in accordance with clause 5(b), the Vice-President or the President-elect shall serve for the unexpired term of office and be deemed, FOR THE PURPOSES OF CLAUSE (3)—.

 

(a) to have served a full term as President if, at the date on which the President assumed office, at least
three years remain before the date of the next general election; or

(b) not to have served a term of office as President if, at the date on which the President assumed
office, less than three years remain before the date of the next general election.”

The Republican President’s full term of office is a five-year period that runs concurrently with the life of Parliament.

This is in a matter in which four political party leaders asked the Court to determine whether President Lungu was eligible to contest 2921 polls. These are New Congress Party’s Peter Chanda, Zambia Republican Party’s Wright Musoma, Christian Democratic Party‘s Dan Pule and Citizen Democratic Party’s Robert Mwanza.

 

Interestingly, the ConCourt President Judge Chibomba, sitting with other six judges, noted that President Lungu’s presidency straddled two Constitutional regimes: The old Constitution and the current one which come into force effective January 5, 2016 after President Lungu appended his signature.

 

In short, the spirit of Article 106(3) captures a scenario in which the incumbent President was first elected in 2016 polls.

Indeed, the law in question, which did not exist before January 5, 2016(when President Lungu appended his signature), does not recognize 2015 election victory as President Lungu’s first term of office. But it recognizes 2016 election victory as President Lungu’s first term of office.

The framers of the current Constitution, unlike those who penned old national document, addressed the incumbent’s situation who inherits his predecessor’s term of office as was the case with President Lungu

Therefore, the ConCourt is 100 percent correct to rule that President Lungu is eligible to re-contest 2021 polls as his second and not third term as President Lungu’s critics alleges.

More so, the ConCourt interpreted correctly Article 106(3) read together with Clause 5, and 6 which should not leave room for speculation.

What are lesson drawn from the politically orchestrated ‘Third -Term Debate’?

It was somewhat healthy for democracy and freedom of expression even although it revolved around political and not legal issues: The cartel of Zambians who either both opposed or challenged President Lungu’s candidature in 2015, or a clique of politicians who had fallen out of favour with the Head of State orchestrated the debate for selfish reasons.

The debate was deliberately orchestrated to influence public opinion, and agitate for the incumbent’s exit from active politics as a smooth transition for regime change.

This is evident from the on-going mixed reactions to the ConCopurt’s recent ruling that President Lungu is eligible to contest the 2021 polls.

The author is a media consultant and political analyst

 

 

 

 

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31