Public Webinar on “The Nexus between Delimitation and the Population Census: Implications for Electoral Democracy”

On Wednesday the 3rd of March 2021, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a public webinar via the ZOOM platform on the topic, “The Nexus between Delimitation and the Population Census: Implications for Electoral Democracy.’ A team of electoral experts made up the panel, who included Commissioner Netsai Mushonga of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), Mr. Andrew Makoni, a senior lawyer and Chairperson of the ZESN, Mr. Tafadzwa Mugwadi, ZANU-PF Director of Information and Publicity, as well as Ms. Ellen Shiriyedenga, Deputy Director for Elections in the Movement for Democratic Change- Alliance (MDC-A). A representative from the MDC T who was supposed to be part of the panel could not take part in the discussion due to ill health.

The discussion focused among other issues, on the relationship between delimitation and the population census, plans on how the process will be rolled out, expectations of different stakeholders on how the exercise must be done, and the roles of different stakeholders in the process. Panelists defined delimitation as the division of the country into constituencies and wards for the purposes of elections. It was noted that the preoccupation with Delimitation in Zimbabwe is a result of the exercise not having been done in a long time. The last delimitation in Zimbabwe was done in the year 2008 and many changes have occurred since then.

Commissioner Mushonga outlined how the process is going to be conducted this year. She noted that delimitation is done in order to promote electoral representation and equality in voting strength and that ZEC is going to make this process as open as possible. The process will involve mapping out polling areas, dividing them into 210 constituencies and subsequently into wards. The ZEC Commissioner noted that the process will need time, patience and resources. It will also see the training of many different stakeholders including ZEC staff, political parties, civil society organizations as well as traditional leaders.

Asked about the ZANU-PF expectations on the delimitation process, the representative noted that since delimitation has been placed under the purview of ZEC, the Commission must be able to carry out its mandate without undue interference. The MDC-A representative was of the opinion that ZEC has a responsibility of ensuring that the delimitation process is done transparently through the involvement of key stakeholders, particularly political parties and citizens. She also called for the equal representation of groups, including those who are demographically disadvantaged. The ZESN Chairperson, emphasized the importance of revisiting constituencies since the last delimitation was done 13 years ago. He explained that there is currently an unacceptable variation in constituency sizes, with some being with over 70 000 people and some being small with less than 15 000 people. He also called for public participation and consultation in the process, holding consultations on time as well as availing a clear roadmap on how it will be conducted.

The ZEC Commissioner further noted that the process of coming up with a roadmap was delayed by almost a year due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown. She noted that it is still work in progress but there is a draft already in place. The Commissioner highlighted that the CSOs and other interested stakeholders will be allowed to observe the delimitation process in the same way that they observed the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process. She promised webinar participants that the process will be thorough and accurate, accompanied by continuous voter education on it. She also noted that delimitation messages will be translated into different languages for the benefit of all Zimbabweans and regulations and procedures will be developed and will cover a number of aspects including dealing with boundary disputes.

Other concerns raised in the meeting were that since this is the first time that ZEC will be conducting this exercise, it is hoped that ZEC will conduct its work independently and that the process will be consultative, involving and inclusive of other stakeholders. It was noted that in the past, the process did not involve the relevant stakeholders, and the legal framework did not call for the observation of the process, which raised fears of possible gerrymandering.

The meeting also sought to establish the connection between the census data and the delimitation process given that ZEC will be using the voter registration data for the delimitation process. Commissioner Mushonga responded by noting that ZEC will use the data of registered voters as spelt out clearly in section 160 and 161 of the Constitution, which gives provisions for the numbers of constituencies and wards that Zimbabwe must be divided into, as well as lay out steps that must be followed in the delimitation of electoral boundaries. The Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 161 (6) (f) allows a variance of +/- 20% at the time of delimitation. She noted that the census data will give an idea of the number of voters especially those who are not registered and that census results will also allow ZEC to do targeted voter education. It will also allow ZEC to estimate the number of eligible voters by the time we get to 2023 for example how many would have turned 18 by that time. The Commissioner explained that census data will help to sensitize political parties in terms of the gaps that are there so that they are able to work with ZEC on voter education. Further the Census data will help to show the patterns of migration that are happening in Zimbabwe, internal and external migration and will also help to validate voter registration statistics.

The ZESN representative encouraged political parties to rally their supporters for delimitation so that all Zimbabweans are able to participate in the process. He emphasized that census data is critical for the delimitation exercise, and said he hopes that the proposed amendment to section 12 of amendment number 2 will be pursued. Mr. Makoni suggested that if the necessary reforms are not instituted through Parliament, ZEC can make reference to Section 37A subsection 2 of the Constitution which gives powers in terms of public consultation to ensure public participation.

As a parting shot, the MDC-A representative noted the need for building trust and confidence in the Delimitation process among the people of Zimbabwe, and ensuring that the process is done impartially and with consultations. Mr. Makoni suggested that the roadmap to the delimitation process be availed as quickly as possible and in languages that are sensitive to People with Disabilities, such as braille and sign language. He also urged ZEC to ensure that a final report will be released early before the elections, maybe by 2022, and to ensure that it owns the final product. Mr. Mugwadi, the ZANU-PF representative, noted that elections are not going to be won by complaints but by the number of votes while Commissioner Mushonga urged all Zimbabweans to engage constructively in the delimitation exercise as the process is part of nation building.

The meeting was a notable success as it allowed for a robust discussion and information sharing on the pending Delimitation exercise. It was attended by over 73 people and had a social media reach of 7 300 people on the ZESN Facebook page.

Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)

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