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JOHN SANGWA’S BALANCING ACT

By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE

IF there was ever a time that constitutional lawyer John Sangwa needed to be all things to all human rights groups, legal practitioners and political players in Zambia, that time is now, say some analysts – albeit of the busybody kind that always try to get somebody into trouble.

Last week, the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) discontinued a petition filed in the Constitutional Court in which it wanted President Edgar Lungu to be barred from contesting the August 12 general elections.

According to a notice of discontinuance filed in the Constitutional Court registry, LRF, through lawyers Simeza Sangwa & Associates, had wholly discontinued the case without stating reasons.

LRF in its petition wanted the court to declare that President Lungu having twice held office as President was not eligible to contest the forthcoming elections. The petitioner cited President Lungu in his personal capacity.

LRF had argued that by President Lungu filing his nomination papers, he contravened Article 106 (3) of the Constitution and his nomination should therefore, be quashed.

Not only that, LRF had also discontinued another petition in which it wanted the court to quash the nomination of running mates from all the political parties for breaching the Constitution.

The Simeza Sangwa & Associates-linked Foundation had also cited Professor Nkandu Luo for PF, Mutale Nalumango, UPND, Democratic Party’s Judith Kabemba, Dr Cosmas Musumali, Socialist Party, Bright Chomba, Third Liberation Movement, Henry Muleya, Patriots for Economic Progress and Samuel Kasanka, New Heritage Party.

Others were Changala Siame, Economic Freedom Fighters, Rosemary Chivumba, Zambia United for Sustainable Development, Kaela Kamweneshe, Leadership Movement and Kasote Singogo, Party of National Unity and Progress.

LRF stated that the running mates contravened the law by not paying nomination fees and also not complying with the provision of presenting 100 supporters from each province when filing in their nomination papers.

“Notwithstanding the respondent’s failure to comply with Article 100 (10) (i) of the Constitution, the returning officer declared the respondents’ nominations for election to the office of Vice-President valid,” argued LRF.

Known and unknown to many, the Constitution of Zambia provides for both a president and a vice-president. Under the current system, the presidential candidate for each of the two major parties, the ruling Patriotic Front and the United Party for National Development, chooses a vice presidential running mate.   This process is also applicable to smaller political parties.

The running mate is simply the vice presidential candidate. Voters vote on the two – presidential and vice presidential candidates – as a team.

The system isn’t unique to Zambia. There are other countries where a similar process exists, for instance, the United States, Malawi and Kenya, where the running mate of the presidential candidate is automatically made Vice-President once elected into office.

Nonetheless, with Simeza Sangwa & Associates playing an active role in LRF’s formation and management in Zambia, the presidential and running mates’ petitions in the Constitutional Court warranted thinking outside the box.

Besides, the LRF is an NGO registered as a limited company by guarantee, which was founded in 1991 during the advent for multi party politics in Zambia. The idea behind the creation of the Foundation was out of a conviction to establish a favourable atmosphere in which democracy and democratic governance could flourish.

Above all, to encourage the provision of legal aid service in Zambia in the broader context of access to justice is part of the democratisation process.

In this regard legal aid plays a substantial role in advancing social, economic and political rights, through the use of law as a way by which the plight of the poor and economically disadvantaged groups are meaningfully addressed.

The Foundation is involved in the promotion of human rights through provision of legal aid to the vulnerable. Since its inception, under close supervision of Simeza Sangwa & Associates, the Foundation has been providing legal aid services and litigating in matters of public interest.

The Foundation also runs a number of outreach programmes, supportive to legal aid, which is its core project. Clearly though, LRF’s presidential and running mates’ petitions in the Constitutional Court had from the first been dismissed as litigations full of hot air.

But sometimes hot air is just what is needed when Simeza Sangwa & Associates want something heightened up.

Since its inception LRF, however, has operated as a secret society’s NGO when it comes to politically sensitive legal issues and deliberate obfuscation is often its coinage.

This was the case with the Constitutional Court’s decision to reject Mr Sangwa’s bid to discontinue a matter in which the LRF sued President Lungu claiming that his nomination papers filed with the Electoral Commission of Zambia to run for president be invalidated.

He had earlier filed a notice to wholly discontinue the petition after an identical petition involving Sishuwa Sishuwa and Linda Kasonde’s Chapter One Foundation Limited as petitioners had been filed into court. The Court went further to consolidate the two petitions into one cause.

At the same hearing, an application by the Attorney General to join the matter as the second respondent was heard and granted. The LRF became the first petitioner, Sishuwa Sishuwa became the second petitioner, and Chapter One Foundation was the third petitioner while the Attorney General was the second respondent. The respondents were given up to May 31, 2021 to file their responses and the matter will be heard by the full court on either June 8 or 9, 2021.

Most observers are not holding their breath. Some have claimed that the LRF-linked lawyer committed the balancing act of trying to wholly discontinue the petition on purpose, while others believed he could not have done so, but was swept away by his UPND-related political emotions.

Besides, they did not see the LRF, with roots in Simeza Sangwa & Associates, as a viable litigating alternative, and a recognisable Zambian legal practitioner.

The sympathetic hearing it gets in Western capitals and from the opposition parties and pro-UPND civil society in the country is held against it. 

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