Why we should all be scared for Lungu's proposed constitutional amendments

Lungu's frightening proposed amendments to the Zambian constitution, should have everyone worried for the future of Zambia

President Edgar Lungu has proposed sweeping changes for the Zambian constitution that critics say are aimed at reducing scrutiny and improving his chances of retaining power ahead of the election in 2021.

The Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, published on 21 June, aims to reduce the role of parliament and gives greater power to the executive (Lungu). The bill re-introduces the costly roles of deputy minister and lifts restrictions on the creation of new parliamentary constituencies.

Most significantly it removes the requirement of parliamentary approval to ratify loans and loan guarantees by the government and parastatals. This subjects the ballooning debt, which has doubled to US$10 billion in the past decade. This decision would decrease the checks and balances required by Lungu to obtain loans, a step which comes at a time when critics say there should be more regulations. Accusations of reckless government borrowing and the theft of state funds have been a feature of much of Lungu's time in office.

The amendments would also allow for the formation of a coalition government in the event of no outright winner gaining more than 50% of the vote in the presidential election. This is widely seen as a crude attempt by the ruling Patriotic Front to open up the election to crude horse-trading, contravening the spirit of the constitution.

The Law Association of Zambia president Eddie Mwitwa has responded with 'grave concern' for the proposed amendments, which he says give free rein to election interference through gerrymandering.

In a frank address on 27 June, United States ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote waded in on what he called a deterioration of Zambian democracy and institutions. He said the electorate was tired of 'divisive politics' and corruption, and that the government's lack of transparency regarding 'problematic' debt was a key factor in increasingly poor governance under the PF. The amendments require a two-thirds majority in parliament to pass.

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