What does delimitation mean?
Quite simply, delimitation is the setting of a boundary. Zimbabwe’s electorate is split into 210 constituencies, each represented in the National Assembly by a Member of Parliament who is voted in by the people of that constituency in a parliamentary election. Each constituency is then further divided into wards, each of which is represented in Council (Provincial or Metropolitan) by a ward councillor. It is very important that each constituency and ward is more or less the same size in terms of population, in order to ensure fair representation in government.
What does the Constitution say now?
Section 161 of the Constitution states that the boundaries of wards and constituencies should be evaluated, and re-drawn where necessary, after a full census is taken every ten years. The next census is due in 2022. This is to ensure that population change is taken into account so that no one ward or constituency is unfairly represented in government. The constitution stipulates that no ward or constituency should have a population difference of either more than or less than 20% of another ward or constituency.
What will change if the amendment is approved?
The amendment would allow ZEC to set ward and constituency boundaries without reference to population information collected in the census. It is worth noting that ZEC is able to use other data to do this (such as that collected during the continuous voter registration process). Removing the need to use census data takes the pressure off government to conduct and conclude the 2022 census before the next elections.
Does it matter? If so, why?
The creators of the new constitution linked the census with the delimitation exercise to ensure that electoral boundaries reflect the most up to date information regarding population change. Although population data can be acquired through other means, a full census helps to make the delimitation process more transparent and less arbitrary.
Veritas notes that the last full delimitation exercise was carried out in 1985 and the last time any kind of delimitation happened before elections was 2008. You can read more from ZESN about delimitation and Zimbabwe’s elections here.
As it stands, there are many wards and constituencies which are either overpopulated or underpopulated because of changes between 2008 and now. In particular, urban populations have mushroomed while several rural populations have remained static or have shrunk – but these changes have not been accounted for in parliamentary representation. For example, in 2018, Harare South constituency, with 76,425 voters, was over five times larger than Gutu North, with 14,198 voters. In addition, ZEC has made some dubious decisions regarding constituency composition before other elections, such as allegedly transferring registered voters in Mount Pleasant Heights from Mt Pleasant (urban) constituency to Mazoe South (rural) constituency without public consultation in 2017. With the next elections already on the horizon, it is important that all Zimbabweans carefully watch the processes ZEC understakes, to ensure that elections are conducted fairly and transparently. Delimitation is an important part of this.