AS another silly season beckons, Zimbabwe’s political parties have started electioneering ahead of the make or break 2023 plebiscite. It is less than two years from the next harmonised elections where voters choose three candidates — councillors, legislators and the President.
While the political parties continue to bicker, there is need to focus on key aspects of the electoral process around the voters roll, delimitation exercise, postal and diaspora votes that influence outcomes. This week, we are focussing on the delimitation exercise, which at every election has created debate and contestation. We are going to present two arguments to stir a robust debate.
Delimitation after census
The delimitation exercise starts after the final census report is tabled before parliament. What this means is that the census must be finalised by August 2022, followed by delimitation from September to December. The final delimitation report should be brought before parliament by January 2023.
Delimitation is the process of dividing a country’s total area into smaller electoral units to facilitate an efficient conduct of elections. The aim of delimitation is to draw constituencies with equal populations. According to Section 239 of the Constitution, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is charged to conduct its duty efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently, and in accordance with the law.
The same Constitution in Section 161 guides the commission as follows:
Once every 10 years, as soon as possible after a population census, Zec must conduct a delimitation of the electoral boundaries into which Zimbabwe is to be divided.
If a delimitation of electoral boundaries is completed less than six months before polling day in a general election, the boundaries so delimited do not apply to that election, and instead the boundaries that existed immediately before the delimitation are applicable. This means that boundaries delimited after the 2022 census must be in place six months before the proclamation of the 2023 election, failing of which the 2008 boundaries will be used in 2023.
Because of growth rates, particularly in peri-urban areas, it is arguable that census data is accurate immediately after but may become obsolete. People in these areas may find themselves underrepresented in comparison with people in rural areas.
Voter registration based
However, there is another proposition. The question being asked is whether Zec should continue to rely on population data based on a national census or should depend on voter registration data, in light of the new polling station specific model of registration voters.
Voter registration is not compulsory in Zimbabwe. Citizens, who choose not to exercise their right to vote, are not penalised. Those advocating for the number of registered voters as a baseline for delimiting electoral boundaries argue that the national census in Zimbabwe is conducted every 10 years while harmonised elections are conducted every five years. They also argue that the proportion of those who are not eligible to be registered to vote is not uniform across the population. Some communities will have more children and higher numbers of non-citizens.
They point out that voter registration data as a benchmark is likely to produce districts that are more equal with regards to the number of voters registered in each as voter registration is continuous in all 63 district and 10 provincial offices.
In conclusion, what is apparent is that time is of essence if the delimitation exercise is to be conducted in a manner that is satisfactory to all stakeholders and voters.
This debate must start now to allow for adequate time to effect necessary legal reforms and also mobile resources and develop training manuals. Now that elections are polling station based, there is need for voters to be given adequate time to be educated, not only on the new boundaries but on their new polling stations otherwise we face the problem of voters being turned away.