This Activity Highlight brings to the fore issues that were discussed at a Virtual Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) in partnership with Zimpapers as part of efforts on engaging citizens on the drawing of electoral boundaries in Zimbabwe.
On the 26th of August 2020, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a virtual community public meeting on the topic ‘Citizen Engagement Amid COVID-19: Delimitation in Zimbabwe’. The meeting had two panelists and five discussants. The panelists were Dr. James Tsabora who is an academic and legal expert and Dr. Qhubani Moyo who is a Commissioner with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). The discussants were Prisca Dube from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Emmaculate Chiseya the Public Outreach and Capacity Building Officer with ZESN, David Mutambirwa from Media Monitors, Tapiwa Chengeta from the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and Ndodana Ndhlovu the ZESN Matabeleland Region Field Officer. The discussion was co-moderated by a ZESN Board Member Rosewitta Katsande the Director of the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) and Andrew Hodges of Zimbabwe Television Network (ZTN). The first 30 minutes of the 1 hour 30 minutes discussion was a simulcast live broadcast on ZTN and on Star FM, Diamond FM, Capitalk and Nyaminyani FM. The meeting adopted a Question and Answer format.
The first speaker Dr. James Tsabora described the Zimbabwean governance system as being based on Constitutionalism. He noted that Delimitation promotes representative democracy as it enhances electoral democracy and promotes universal adult suffrage. Dr. Tsabora noted that political rights are enshrined in Section 67 of the Zimbabwean Constitution and that once the process of Delimitation is not done properly, representative democracy is also compromised.
According to the legal expert, the major challenge with the process of Delimitation in Zimbabwe has been that the laws relating the process that have not been fully aligned with the Constitution. These include the Rural District Councils Act and the Urban Councils Act which give the President the discretion to determine Boundaries. He noted that although these give room for consulting ZEC in the process, they are mischievous provisions in the sense that consultation does not bind a person to the decision of those consulted. He recommended that the provisions be amended.
The next to share his sentiments was Commissioner Dr. Qhubani Moyo of ZEC. He noted that the law provides that ZEC must conduct a delimitation every ten years. However, the last delimitation in Zimbabwe was conducted in the year 2008. This means that the last two elections were conducted basing on the boundaries that were created in the year 2008. The Commissioner explained that the ZEC has started preparations for the process and is going to ensure that the process is impartial, consultative, representative and transparent. He noted that most importantly, ZEC will ensure that every citizen is given equal opportunity to participate in the process. He also emphasized the need for the law to be aligned to the Constitution, and that the process need to be conducted as soon as possible, so that it is not rushed towards 2023 harmonised elections. The Commissioner noted that they will ensure that the process will be all encompassing to avoid future boundary disputes. He also said that they would ensure consultation with and participation of all citizens and stakeholders.
The first discussant, Emmaculate Chiseya, highlighted that citizen participation is a key element in the electoral processes as it strengthens our democracy. She noted that in boundary delimitation, citizen participation and stakeholders engagement is vital because it enhances transparency, confidence and trust. She encouraged ZEC to conduct a massive voter registration drive aimed at boosting the number of registered voters in particular in areas where under registration had been noted. She also noted that the voters’ roll should be comprehensive, current and accurate to ensure representativeness and equality of the vote, as well as to prevent malapportionment of electoral constituencies and wards. She called for civic and voter education outreach that is detailed, comprehensive and inclusive, targeting women, youths, People with Disability, political parties and the general citizenry. According to the speaker, ‘all this will enhance credibility of the process and buy in from stakeholders’. Chiseya also gave highlights of a ZESN study conducted in 2019 on Citizens Perceptions on Delimitation of Electoral Constituencies and Wards. She noted that the findings pointed out that most of the citizens lack knowledge of the delimitation.
The ZESN Matabeleland Field Officer, Ndodana Ndlovu, was tasked with giving the expectations of people from Matabeleland on the Delimitation process. He noted that the citizens expect the delimitation process to be done in order to increase and not decrease the number of Parliamentary constituencies or wards in Matabeleland, as decreasing these would be viewed as further contributing to the marginalization of the region. He also indicated that the process must be conducted fairly in line with international principles for delimitation. Another pre requisite he mentioned is the issuance of Birth Certificates and Identity cards to enable citizens to register to vote. He also called for extensive and continuous civic and voter education and extensive voter registration.
The next speaker, Prisca Dube, first noted that the Zimbabwe legal framework for delimitation complies substantially with international best practices as stipulated in Section 161 of the Constitution. However, she bemoaned the lack of provisions in the Constitution or Electoral Act requiring transparency or public access to the delimitation process in Zimbabwe. Section 37A of the Electoral Act requires ZEC to announce its intention to delimit electoral boundaries in the Government Gazette and/or in whatever other means it thinks appropriate. Dube called for the alignment of the enabling laws for delimitation, and the passing into law of the Census and Statistics Amendment Bill which is aimed at pushing forward the census to ensure it’s done in time for the data to be used in the delimitation process.
Another discussant from Manicaland, David Mutambirwa agreed that the alignment of laws with the Constitution encouraged the ZEC to undertake a delimitation process which is not contested. He shared concerns on the absence of a clear and transparent plan of action by ZEC on delimitation so far. He also expressed concern that people with disabilities have not been adequately considered in the past electoral processes.
The last discussant, Tapiwa Chengeta, noted that Delimitation serves as an opportunity for ZEC to reclaim its confidence and trust in citizens. He reinforced that delimitation presents an opportunity for the ZEC to work with citizens openly in order to dispel any negativity that is shrouded upon the institution. Chengeta highlighted that the process of delimiting boundaries sometimes creates quarrels in which citizens and often they end up losing confidence in all electoral processes. Chengeta also spoke about potential gerrymandering which he said is one of the issues that should be addressed by delimitation because this has created contestation and has removed citizens’ trust in electoral processes. He concluded his presentation by noting that delimitation is directly linked to elections and services, therefore it is very important that an all-inclusive program that creates public confidence be created.
When the platform was opened to contributions from the participants on the ZOOM and Facebook platforms, a number of concerns were raised regarding the Delimitation process in Zimbabwe. These included the need to know how People with Disabilities could best be consulted and involved in the process, how ZEC is going to do things differently in order to enhance the credibility, impartiality and transparency of the Delimitation exercise and the need to look at elections as a process and not as an event. Another participant asked how ZEC was going to ensure the involvement of people in the Diaspora in the Delimitation process.
Participants also complained about the general politicking in the country which affects electoral processes negatively. In response to the question on the involvement of People with Disability, the ZESN Electoral Education and Capacity Building Officer suggested that the People with Disability be involved from the planning stage of the process in messaging, content development and also as voter educators.
In response to concerns about ZEC Independence and capacity to consult stakeholders, the ZEC Commissioner assured participants that ZEC is committed to ensure impartiality and involvement of stakeholders in the process. He also responded to the question about Diaspora involvement by noting that this group can get involved by engaging and sharing ideas with people in their areas of origin in Zimbabwe. Another participant asked the ZEC Commissioner about when to expect the Commission to share the Roadmap on the process. The Commissioner responded that consultations are currently underway and that stakeholders will be updated very soon on the Roadmap and other processes.
The one hour and half Virtual town hall discussion was a very successful discussion as it managed to achieve the objective of bringing together electoral stakeholders to discuss Delimitation, a very crucial process to elections, while at the same time engaging the ordinary citizens through different platforms. The meeting had a reach of 90 people on the ZOOM platform and 2 719 people were reached on the ZESN Facebook page. Statistics from Zimbabwe Television Network and the radio stations were not yet available at the time of compiling the report.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)