THE ruling Zanu PF gerrymandered senatorial constituencies by sidestepping the Delimitation Commission to allow itself unfair advantage in the senatorial election, a report by the Zimbabwe Elec
tion Support Network (Zesn) says.
Gerrymandering is a deliberate system of drawing electoral boundaries to maximise the political support for one’s party and disadvantage opponents.
Government arbitrarily collapsed the 120 parliamentary constituencies into 50 senatorial ones without a clear formula in order to fast-track the reintroduction of the senate that had been abolished “as a vestige of colonialism” in 1989 under the ninth Constitutional Amendment Act.
After abolishing the 40-member senate, the 1989 Act converted the seats into contested parliamentary constituencies for a unicameral House of Assembly.
Only 10 out of the 50 senatorial constituencies are purely urban although the population in urban centres constitutes 35% of the total, meaning that the urban electorate, where the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has traditionally held sway, is underrepresented in the senate, the report says.
The report notes that in nine constituencies, all in Matabeleland, the number of senate seats was almost equal to the number of parliamentary seats. In Matabeleland, 21 parliamentary constituencies in the March general election were allocated five senatorial seats while 18 constituencies in the capital Harare were allocated a similar number.
In voter population terms, for an average of 91 000 voters in such places as rural Rushinga-Mt Darwin, Guruve, Mt Darwin-Muzarabani, Zvimba and Mutoko where the ruling party enjoys mass support, a senatorial seat was allocated against an average of 156 000 voters in three Harare senatorial constituencies.
The report says arbitrary demarcation of senatorial boundaries was more evident in Matabeleland North where two large constituencies were left intact while the third largest in Nkayi was merged with Lupane to form one constituency.
“Even more bizarre is that two smallest constituencies of Hwange East and Hwange West that are geographically contiguous were not merged to form one senatorial constituency,” the election watchdog says.
Zesn says it was inexplicable that Hwange East, narrowly won by the MDC in March, was left intact while Hwange West where the opposition posted a huge victory was merged with Tsholotsho.
The report also noted that in Matabeleland South all three constituencies which were won by Zanu PF were not tampered with while in the Midlands, Gweru Urban and Mkoba were merged with Gweru Rural and Shurugwi to give leverage to the ruling Zanu PF party.
Zesn suggests that having each of the 10 provinces as electoral constituencies would have been a more representative procedure with seats allocated to parties in proportion to the turnout of each party.
It said the demarcation of senatorial constituencies was such that if voters voted the way they did in March, the opposition MDC would not win any senatorial seats even in provinces where it won seats in the March poll such as the Midlands and Masvingo.