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Jesuit Scholars in Zambia Call for Constitutional Review after By-Election Cancellation

The Logo of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR). Credit: JCTR

The decision by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to cancel the Kabwata Constituency by-elections after one of the candidates withdrew from the polls is a reason for the Southern African country to review its Constitution, officials of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) have said. 

On Monday, January 10, ECZ reportedly called off the Kabwata by-elections after one of the contestants, Libanda Francis, withdrew from the race. ECZ officials are said to have invoked Article 52(6) of the Zambian Constitution, which calls on the electoral body to cancel a poll when a candidate withdraws, dies, becomes disqualified for corruption or malpractice or where a court bars a contestant from participating in an election. 

After a poll is cancelled, Article 52(6) requires fresh nominations of eligible candidates and organizing a new election within 30 days after the list of new nominations is filed.  

In a Thursday, January 13 statement, JCTR members say they note “with great concern the continued existence of ambiguities with regard to the current constitution, its interpretation, and more specifically, in this case, the weaknesses of Zambia’s electoral processes.”

“It is a known fact that with the current electoral legal framework, Zambia’s political system remains vulnerable to inconsistencies and unnecessary wastage of public resources,” JCTR officials say. 

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They add, “This wastefulness is unacceptable given that these resources would have been channeled to improving social service delivery to the poor and vulnerable communities in Zambia.” 

Officials of the Jesuit entity based in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka further say that some provisions of the current electoral laws present “serious political dilemma for a struggling economy such as that of Zambia.”

The Kabwata election that had been scheduled for January 20 serves as an illustration of the issues that call for reforms, they add.

“It is clear that there is good case here to call for constitutional and electoral law reforms in order to transform our electoral laws to enable the country to not only to cost effectively manage elections, but also to stem out a wave of nullifications of parliamentary elections,” JCTR officials say. 

Postponement and nullification of parliamentary elections “have a long-term effect of eroding confidence in the electoral process and of denying rights holders quality representation in the public governance system,” they say. 

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In their January 13 statement, JCTR officials call upon the Zambian government and all key stakeholders “to urgently release a roadmap for a broad-based constitutional review process.”

“We also call for a road map for a number of legal reforms, including the electoral process law, access to information legislation, public order law, loans and guarantees (authorization) law, just to mention a few,” the Jesuit scholars at the Lusaka-based institution say. 

They add that the constitutional review process “must commence” immediately to allow for sufficient consultations from various stakeholders. 

“This process must not be left close to the 2026 elections,” officials of the research, education and advocacy institution say.