By Godfrey Chitalu

Depending on your statistical source, Zambia’s life expectancy is 51 years for males and 54 years for females. It is the average age at death deduced using a combination of observed and projected mortality rates.

Plagued by disease, poor health facilities and economic woes, death is a common phenomenon in our country, with or without elections.

It is therefore eminent that a sizable number of contenders will die before August 12; the poll date. There is a small constitutional lacuna in regard to resignations, morbidity and elections that a Lusaka lawyer and the Electoral Commission of Zambia has brought to the fore. Its ripple effects are too ghastly to contemplate.

The matter was ignited by the death of Zambians United for Sustainable Development (ZUSD) parliamentary candidate for Mandevu Constituency and resignations of three other contenders. Lusaka lawyer Dickson Jere told News Diggers that the only option in the constitution was to cancel elections and call for fresh nominations in that constituency. Expectedly there was an outcry.

Timidly Electoral Commission of Zambian agreed with Jere, perhaps after their administrative alternatives lacked legality. The new normal caught the nation by storm as most people had not taken keen interest on article 52(6).

For the sake of clarity, article 52(6), oblivious of the kerfuffle it has brought, innocently states that: Where a candidate dies, resigns or becomes disqualified in accordance with Article 70, 100 or 153 or a court disqualifies a candidate for corruption or malpractice, after the close of nominations and before the election date, the Electoral Commission shall cancel the election and require the filing of fresh nominations by eligible candidates and elections shall be held within thirty days of the filing of the fresh nominations.

Since this provision embraces articles 70, 100 or 153 of the Constitution, there is a likelihood that some contenders might try to accentuate its negative aspect for selfish reasons. To say the least, these provisions spits in the face of civility; their literal interpretation insinuates that we could have presidential elections before August 12, if one chose to resign. Could our constitutional court provide alternative interpretation? Did we learn any lessons about Grade 12 litigations?

Apart from death, chances are high that some contenders might be coerced to resign and stall the election process. Suppose some of the presidential aspirants thought it fashionable to resign periodically every 30 days, imagine the kerfuffle! Mathematically speaking that portion of elections could be delayed by months on end. I know we won’t go that route because of the caliber of contenders in that race.

Just why did our constitution crafters include this clause without an administrative escape clause? In simple language, they could have just said political parties should replace candidates in case of death and resignations if the ballot papers are not printed. It is a different scenario if ballots are printed. Since this is a constitutional provision, I’m sure we have not yet seen the drama that will unfold before August 12. This is our pass the popcorn moment!

The author is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.
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