The Impact of Delimitation on Electoral Democracy in Zimbabwe

This Activity Highlight brings to the fore issues that were discussed on Tuesday 18 August 2020 at a Virtual Public Meeting hosted by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) under the banner Making Elections Make Sense in the COVID-19 Era. The topic under discussion was “The Impact of Delimitation on Electoral Democracy in Zimbabwe”. Panelists included Tawanda Chimhini, the Director of Election Resource Centre, Ellen Dingani representing the ZESN and Hon. Kucaca Phulu of the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance. Two of the panelists failed to participate in the meeting for various reasons, including connectivity challenges. The moderator, Violet Gonda started off by welcoming participants and panelists to the meeting. She explained that elections are all about rules, the institutions and the environment. The meeting was in the form of Question and Answer and then the discussion was opened to contributions from participants who has joined via Zoom and Facebook.

Since Zimbabwe has a history of contested elections, the constant reviewing of boundaries is crucial. This is more important also because the last redrawing of boundaries was in 2008, almost twelve years ago. Since then, some constituencies have ballooned while others have shrunk or remained small. Section 161(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe defines the relationship between delimitation and the population census. The Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2 of 2020 proposes the delink between the two processes, with the argument that the 2022 census would be too close to the 2023 elections, leaving inadequate time between for the census report to be used for the Delimitation process. In the Amendment Bill ZESN proposes that the census be done earlier instead of the processes to be delinked, and that government has conceded to this position and have had the proposal withdrawn.

The first panelist to be given the platform was Chimhini, who noted that Delimitation is one of the most crucial processes necessary for free and fair elections. He started off by defining delimitation as the drawing of electoral boundaries for the election of representatives into wards and constituencies. He explained that different jurisdictions have different stipulations on when delimitation should be done, and that for Zimbabwe, it is after every ten years. Key considerations in Delimitation he noted include population size, geographical features, existing patterns of human settlement and community interest.

According to Chimhini, the three building blocks for Delimitation are, the Quality of Voting strength, the Voter register and the Independence of the Delimitation Authority. These are premised on that data from the census must be reliable, we must have confidence in the voter register itself and that the Delimitation authority must be non-partisan, professional and not under the influence of any institution or body. Chimhini added that to deal with the problem of the failure by many people to register to vote especially during the COVID-19 era, there is need to come up with acceptable threshold of rate of registration. This calls for a targeted voter registration blitz so that the underegistered areas boosts their numbers and Delimitation is not done based on warped registration details.

Mr. Chimhini also recommended that the authority responsible for Delimitation in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), should consult more and build consensus with stakeholders on the delimitation process. He also noted that there are some rumours pertaining to some preliminary work by the Ministry of Local Government on the redrawing of boundaries in the country. He however explained that he is not privy to any information regarding whether the Ministry is consulting the ZEC or other stakeholders. Asked how the Ministry of Local Government comes in on the issue of Delimitation when it is not the responsible authority, he noted that this may be because the Ministry is the one responsible for the current geographical boundaries, therefore has a stake in the redrawing of boundaries.

The Representative of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Ellen Dingani, gave a brief historical narrative of how Delimitation was conducted in the past in Zimbabwe. She noted that the process, which was undertaken by the Delimitation Commission in the year 2000 was largely non- inclusive which led to lack of trust on the outcome. There were many allegations of gerrymandering and manipulation of electoral boundaries and the report was contrary to census statistics. In 2008, delimitation was undertaken by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission following a Constitutional Amendment. The process was not sufficiently consultative and participatory. The report was finalized late, leaving no time for discussion and voter education before the elections.

The Dingani also gave highlights of a research conducted by ZESN in early 2019 to determine citizens’ perceptions on Delimitation in Zimbabwe. The study revealed that citizens largely lack knowledge of the delimitation process and recommended that the ZEC should ensure consultation with stakeholders on delimitation, government must provide adequate financial resources for the process and that a roadmap is needed for delimitation. She also noted that ZESN, like other stakeholders, supports the adoption of the Census Bill instead of delinking the census from Delimitation.

She further explained that the research clearly showed, demographic changes have left the 2008 delimitation irrelevant with large variations in constituencies, leaving 106 out of the 210 constituencies not conforming to the acceptable +/_ 20% variation. Examples include Harare South which has over 70 000 registered voters (+280%), Goromonzi South also has over 70 000 voters (+269%) and on the other extreme, Wedza South and Gutu North with about 14 000 (-53%).

The most important values underpinning delimitation given by the ZESN representative were; representativeness, equality of voting strength, accuracy, timeliness, participation and service mindedness, reciprocity and non-discrimination. She emphasized that any compromise on any of these values would affect the results of Delimitation process.

She also gave examples of lessons that Zimbabwe can take from the region on the conduct of Delimitation. She cited Zambia and Malawi as good examples. She noted that in Zambia, the Delimitation authority consulted widely all the relevant stakeholders, including chiefs in rural areas, citizens and members of parliament. The authority also provided a roadmap for the exercise timeously, and made use of preferential data and annual projections of the census for the exercise. All this helped to build confidence in all stakeholders involved including political parties.

The third panelist, Hon Kucaca Phulu, gave an overview of what his party, the MDC-A ‘s position on Delimitation. He explained that his party understands the need for such an important process to take place before the next elections. He also emphasized that there is no need to amend the Constitution in order to delink the Census process from Delimitation, since a Member of Parliament or a Councilor does not represent voters only in a Constituency or ward, but also represents the generality of the population in that area, hence the need to link the two processes. He also noted that as the opposition they support the Amendment to the Census Act which seeks to bring the Census forward, so that there is ample time for the report to be produced and used for Delimitation before the elections. In addition to this, the political parties have been encouraging Zimbabweans to register to vote, and also watching the processes of the two Bills in Parliament, the Constitutional Amendment Bill and the Census Bill, to ensure that their wishes are granted in the Amendments.

The meeting was opened up to contributions from the participants, and there was agreement that delimitation is a very important process which has to be done in Zimbabwe before the next elections. A concern was raised about the possibility of gerrymandering through the establishment of housing cooperatives towards elections. Chimhini noted that one of the ways of dealing with such cases would be to prevent the movement of settlements through law towards elections. He also encouraged ZEC to thoroughly investigate such cases and ensure that they are resolved before the Delimitation process is commenced. He was of the opinion that attending to such processes during Delimitation would compromise the process. To add on to that, Ellen Dingani expressed the need for a clear legal framework to ensure that defines how dispute cases involving Delimitation are amicably and timeously resolved.

The role of civil society in the Delimitation process was also discussed in the meeting. It was noted that the civil society has already done much in engaging the Zimbabwe Election Commission, proffering solutions based on lessons from the region and international best practices, working on raising public awareness on the process and playing an oversight role on institutions involved in the process.

In concluding the discussion, the panelist encouraged the ZEC to produce a clear roadmap and plan that is shared with stakeholders on time. They re-emphasized on the need to continuously consult and engage electoral stakeholders. ZEC should continuously build the so much needed trust and confidence of electoral stakeholders as it is fundamental and part of the reforming processes of elections in Zimbabwe. They also emphasized that it is crucial that all hands are on deck regarding the delimitation process, as this will positively influence the quality of the 2023 elections in Zimbabwe. The meeting ended at 1920 hours and was attended by 70 participants on ZOOM, 211 views and 661 reach on Facebook.

Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)