THE general position among Zimbabweans is that presidential and parliamentary elections will be held within the next 12 months. President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF are on record demanding that elections be held before the end of the year.
However, this is unlikely in light of two critical processes that must be completed before the end of this year. First, it is important to reach finality on the constitution-making process and second, it is now settled that Zimbabwe will undertake the national population census exercise in August 2012.
Both these processes require time and resources. Between now and mid-August, the country will be occupied by the national census. Thereafter, the country may be occupied by the constitutional referendum, provided that the ongoing political rituals are completed.
Even assuming that the constitution is adopted before the end of the year, we understand there will be a number of reforms that will require implementation. In our view, reforms would be needed to ensure the environment is conducive for free and fair elections. It would be utterly useless to agree on the document, but go to elections under the same old system.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) believes the census and the constitution-making exercise are critical national processes which must be completed before the next elections. Both processes have, in different ways, an important bearing on the elections.
The census produces population statistics from the household to the national levels and this data is used by the national government, local authorities, the business sector and other stakeholders for planning and other purposes. It provides a comprehensive and remarkable source of information with regards to the population. The data that is yielded by the census gives a good picture of the state of the population across the country including population density, tracing rural-urban/urban-rural migration and helps in the allocation and distribution of resources.
Done properly, the census is an important tool for development since it should give a complete picture of the country’s population, enabling the authorities to plan in response to the population distribution and resource needs. At Zesn, we are concerned not just with the election process, but also with the overall goal of promoting good governance.
The census data can be used efficiently by a responsible government to respond to the development needs. This is particularly important now that Zimbabwe will be adopting the devolution model under the new constitution.
At Zesn, we believe that devolution can work more efficiently if the devolved provincial governments and local authorities are given adequate resources. To determine whether adequate resources have been allocated, much depends on the levels of the population and access to such facilities as schools, clinics, housing, transport, employment, etc. All this information should be available through the census. That is why it is important that the census be conducted properly and efficiently so that it produces specific, precise and accurate data.
Apart from the developmental aspects of the census, we are also conscious of the relationship between census and elections. The census is a game of numbers as are elections. It is the most comprehensive resource for population statistics in the country. As such, other records like the voters’ rolls will ultimately be measured against the census.
Likewise, results of elections in the regions and nationally are also likely to be measured against the census results. One can easily spot anomalies between the census data and the voters’ roll or indeed the election results. It would be odd, for example, if the voting figures in a province far exceed the population figures produced in the census.
A very important aspect that we will be looking at is the distribution of the population between the rural and urban populations. Previous census data have generally shown significant differences between the rural and urban populations.
In the 2002 census, it was revealed that only 35% of the population was in the urban areas, with the rural areas accommodating 65%. These patterns tend to correspond with voting figures in elections, with the majority of votes emanating from the rural constituencies.
However, there have also been complaints of inflation of voting figures, particularly in the rural areas. It would be interesting to see how the events of the decade after 2000 have affected population distribution between the rural and urban areas.
During that period there has been a nationwide land reform programme, which among other things, led to displacement of farmers and farm workers from commercial farms taken by government. Economic challenges in the rural areas have also led to increased rural-urban migration, with most young able-bodied men and women flocking to towns and cities in search of employment.
The economic problems which affected the country had a severe impact on the rural economy which also suffered heavily due to droughts. Most observers have cast doubt on claims the vast majority of Zimbabwe’s population is in rural areas. We expect the gap between rural and urban populations to have narrowed significantly in the last 10 years due to a combination of political and socio-economic factors.
Given the statistical data that the census will yield, we at Zesn not only regard it as an important national process for development, but we will be watching the process closely to ensure that it produces precise and accurate data. We are mindful of the fact that manipulation of census data could impact heavily not just on development planning, but also on the electoral processes.
The public should take it seriously and ensure that they are counted. Accurate census data will play an important role in improving our national statistics. We also think people should take advantage of this season of counting to go out and register as voters. If the government can count people, then people should ensure that their votes count by registering.
The other national process that is crucial before the elections is the completion of the constitution-making process. Although this process has taken longer than expected, we understand that it is coming to an end now.
Zesn will play its role in scrutinising the draft constitution. We will pay particular attention to our core area of elections and we shall report our findings. We believe that it is important to have the next elections under a new constitution that provides for a free and fair environment.
Although we do not yet have a copy of the final draft constitution, we shall be providing some highlights from the drafts that have been availed to us so far. — Zesn.