Zambian lawyers ask court to block proposed constitution changes

Zambia’s main legal body asked the nation’s top court to halt government plans to amend the constitution.

The Law Association of Zambia said the proposed changes, which include removing a requirement that parliament approve all new loans taken on by the state, are illegal, according to a 101-page petition filed at the Constitutional Court on Monday.

The planned amendments would mark the second change to the constitution since 2016, and come as the country faces a potential debt crisis.

Zambian civil society organizations have criticized the proposed changes and the largest opposition party’s lawmakers walked out of parliament when the government presented them on Aug. 2. Opponents will have further opportunity to express their concerns when a parliamentary committee begins hearings on the subject at a later date, Brian Mundubile, the government’s chief whip, said in comments broadcast on state television this week.

It’s not often that the Law Association of Zambia challenges the government, especially not in the Constitutional Court. Its petition means the subject is before the courts and therefore parliament can’t consider the changes for now, according to the group.

Other key changes the association argues are illegal include:

  • The reintroduction of the position of deputy ministers

  • Removing the powers of the central bank to issue currency (the Bank of Zambia says it will retain these powers in an amendment to the specific law that governs it).

  • Providing for a coalition government if an election winner doesn't get an outright majority, where the current conditions requires a second round of voting if no one wins more than 50% in the initial ballot.

  • The proposed amended constitution provides for a run off if coalition talks have failed after 14 days.

  • Various clauses that expand the president’s power.

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