Sembe—that word that Zambians have for a long time associated with football which simply means if—President Edgar Chagwa Lungu had not commented on the issue of one lawyer Robson Malipenga, one politician Wright Musona and a less known citizen by the name of Mumba going to court arguing that a president is elected for five years meaning that there should be no presidential election in 2016, maybe the issue would have died a natural death.
President Lungu explained how he had heard about the proceedings filed in court by Musona and Mumba represented by Malipenga as he was flying out to Mozambique to attend that country’s 40 years of independence a few weeks back. He said something about him being a lawyer and understanding the constitution which he swore before the people and God to protect but that it was a debate worth following and left it to the courts to interpret what the petitioners were praying for.
Zambia has had the misfortune of losing two sitting presidents within six years between 2008 and 2014. The first to die in office was third republican president Levy Patrick Mwanawasa who was succeeded by his then Vice President Rupiah Banda who was confirmed as a president in an election that is provided for in the constitution following the demise of a sitting president. Banda automatically took over as head of state subject to an election within 90 days.
The second president to die in office was Michael Chilufya Sata who was immediately replaced by his Vice President Guy Scott who had never acted in the higher capacity for reasons best known to Sata himself but believed to be related to the constitutional provision that a person with one or two of the parents foreign born cannot be president in this former British colony.
The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) went through a tumultuous process to choose President Sata’s successor which saw a bevy of 11 senior cadres ranging from his widow Dr Catherine Kaseba, his son Mulenga, nephew Miles Sata to hitherto politically unknown Edgar Lungu whose political star had shone brightly when he was appointed PF secretary general after the dismissal of once powerful but seemingly divisive Wynter Kabimba. Lungu also simultaneously held two ministerial portfolios of Legal Affairs and Defence. He has held on to the Defence portfolio as President.
As the man who was left with the instruments of power on the trip on which President Sata was to succumb to a medical condition or conditions that his government never disclosed even though it was an open secret that the man was ailing, Lungu was seen as the anointed one, a selling point his supporters exploited. By hook or crook, the lanky lawyer turned politician saw off his PF challengers to become the party’s republican presidential challengers and eventually won the January 20 national election.
But barely six months into office, a fringe politician and a fringe citizen represented by a fringe lawyer, have petitioned the High Court arguing that the constitution says a president is elected for five years which means therefore that Lungu should go up to 2020, foregoing the 2016 election.
From secondary school Civics, we learn that the Zambian politico-administrative system has borrowed the presidential system from the United States and the parliamentary system from Britain. At the apex of the Zambian system is the president who is elected by universal adult suffrage and Members of Parliament who are elected by constituents in the 150 parliamentary locales in the country.
The President and Parliament
One thing that does not need any argument is the fact that the tenure of the Zambian president is tied to the life of parliament which lasts five years. The president is elected together with the MPs in what has been known all along as presidential and general elections and recently with the addition of local government as councillors now serve five year terms from previous three year term.
As the life of a five year cycle of parliament comes to an end, the president dissolves parliament and he technically loses his position except that he remains in his position with the help of civil servants represented by permanent secretaries of various ministries and departments until after a presidential and general election when he is either re-elected or hands over to a newly elected individual.
As a Zambian citizen, I wish that the courts of law will be sensible enough to see through this case and decide for what is constitutionally correct for the country in that even if—God forbid—a president died every year, we still would have an election every 90 days until the fifth year when we would have a president who would live for five years to face a normal presidential and general election.
To conclude, let me quote what presidential spokesman Amos Chanda wrote on my Facebook wall:
"I [am] presidential spokesman and I can tell you that the petitioners are strangers to us. Secondly and most instructive, the lawyer representing them is a member and fundraiser of the opposition communist Rainbow [P]arty of [M]r [K]abimba. [I]t is also interesting that only one newspaper seems to know the actual date, hour and minute when those vanity individuals turn up to entertain themselves at court... This President [Lungu] has won all the parliamentary by[-] elections and the majority of local by[-]elections that have taken place since he was elected five months ago. We [are] on course to win more next Tuesday, what is there to fear in the 2015 polls when we have consolidated the incumbency, remember we won even when the acting president wished the opposition won...”