Zambia’s president pushes contested constitutional reforms

Zambian President Edgar Lungu said on Friday his government would go ahead with proposed constitutional amendments despite flak from opposition leaders and civil society groups.

Lungu, in power since 2015, is facing mounting complaints that he is cracking down on dissent and seeking to consolidate power with reforms that sap parliament.

The amendments will remove parliament’s oversight over debt, cabinet appointments and the formation of a coalition when a candidate fails to win a simple majority in an election.

The reforms were scheduled to go before parliament on Friday.

In his address to parliament, Lungu asked MPs to support the amendments, dismissing criticism by saying the reforms were for the public good.

“We braved the storm to deliver the constitution and we mean every word we say. Support the current process,” he said.

“If you don’t want to refine it, we will refine it. Zambians clamoured for the constitution amendments.”

Several opposition leaders have criticised the proposal, citing fears they will curb lawmakers’ ability to censure Lungu and the ruling Patriotic Front party.

“This bill must be withdrawn immediately. It is meant to give Lungu more powers,” opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has said.

Zambia enjoyed relative stability after its first multi-party election in 1991, which ousted the country’s long-running post-independence leader, Kenneth Kaunda.

But Lungu’s 2015 election victory was marked by clashes between supporters of Patriotic Front (PF party and the opposition UPND.

Lungu introduced emergency powers, increasing police powers of arrest and detention after he blamed the opposition for a string of attacks.

Hichilema, who lost to Lungu in a 2016 vote and refused to accept the results, was briefly held on treason charges but later released.