Latest News Editor's Choice

News / National

Zec in a fix

by Staff reporter
07 Apr 2019 at 14:09hrs | Views
THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is battling to prevent a potentially explosive administrative disaster during the 2023 elections as it emerges that a provision in the electoral law may not allow the elections management body enough time to redraw constituency boundaries in time for the polls.

The Constitution obligates Zec to draw up new electoral boundaries every 10 years, immediately after a national population census, which is due in 2022. But the three onerous obligations - financing the 2022 population census, the delimitation exercise and the 2023 harmonised elections - would also present a mountain-sized challenge for Treasury.

Zec is actively pushing for the amendment of Section 161 (1) of the Constitution to delink the delimitation exercise from the census. Zec chief elections officer Mr Utoile Silaigwana said it has since opened lines of communication with the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on the envisaged changes.

"You are aware that we conducted the last elections on the basis of the delimitation that was done between 2007 and 2008. There has been a lot of movement of people from one area to another and new settlements have developed since the last exercise. The Constitution says we should do delimitation immediately after the population census, which is due in 2022, with the elections following a year later.

"Now, do we have the time to have the census report in order to do the delimitation that will lead into the elections? Clearly, we do not have the time. Probably the legislators did not foresee that problem. We think there needs to be a revisit to that provision that links delimitation to the census so that there is a delink between the two."

There are also fears that the financial outlay that is needed to bankroll the census, the delimitation exercise and the elections might be unsustainably burdensome for Treasury. It is believed that amending Section 161 (1) of the Constitution and parts of the Electoral Act in order to delink delimitation from the census will help repeal a provision that makes it mandatory for the elections management body to redraw constituency boundaries, particularly in cases where the delimitation is concluded six months before an election.

Zec has already prepared a concept note outlining the essential legislative changes required to avert the potentially disastrous administrative missteps. But the delimitation exercise - which Zec says is supposed to be conducted 18 months before the elections in order to have adequate time for public awareness campaigns and for political parties and candidates to chart campaign strategies that are in sync with the new boundaries - is likely to be contentious in the 2023 election cycle.

The mushrooming of peri-urban settlements, most of which are overlapping administrative boundaries between urban and rural local authorities, will likely make it difficult for the elections management body to properly map the areas. Most streets in these settlements are nameless, which presents additional difficulties for the planning process. Zec fears that it might end up being bogged down by the elaborate process of mapping the areas, a process which ordinarily should be conducted by local authorities.

Most challenges, he said, are expected from settlements lying on administrative district boundaries such as Goromonzi, Mount Pleasant Heights, Umguza and Caledonia.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi told our Harare Bureau that Government was amenable to the proposed changes.

 "One of the things we need to do when we are amending the Constitution is to delink delimitation of constituencies from the census. The Constitution speaks about delimitation being done immediately after a census; now if you look at our situation, our census is done a year before elections and delimitation exercise needs more than a year to make it meaningful. This means it cannot be done a year before an election," he said.

However, even if the delimitation exercise – which largely depends on the number of registered voters in an administrative jurisdiction – is delinked to the census, it will mean that jurisdictions with low voter registration statistics will witness a reduction or merging of existing constituencies.

A recent research conducted by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a non-governmental organisation, established that using the legally established threshold for delimitation, National Assembly constituencies should have an average 27 000 voters.

By implication, this would mean a "decrease in constituencies" in areas such as Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South and Masvingo. Conversely, it would also mean more constituencies in Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central, according to ZESN. The number of constituencies in Mashonaland East province and Midlands will, however, remain unchanged.

In essence, the number of constituencies in Bulawayo, which has 257 924 registered voters, would be revised from 12 to 10, while in Harare, constituencies would rise from 29 to 33. Mashonaland Central, which boasts of 531 310 voters, will have 20 constituencies, up from 18, while two more constituencies would be added to Mash West constituencies to make them 24.

Source - Sunday News