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ZEC's delimitation: An analysis of which provinces may gain or lose seats in the next parliament

23 Sep 2022 at 11:32hrs | Views
The new census numbers were released in July, and they show a Zimbabwe continuing its modest population shift from the rural and to urban, a trend that will shape parliament for the next decade. The once-a-decade battle over delimitation process is set to be a showdown over especially the 'informal settlements', as new census data showed modest growth around some of the nation's largest cities and shrinking population in many rural areas. Of the 15.1 million people in Zimbabwe, the urban population now accounts for 38, 6 percent of the population with rural areas at 61, 4 percent compared to 33 percent urban and 67 percent rural in 2012.

Of concern however, is that the country's oldest industrial hub that historically has backed MDC-T- the former industrial belt stretching from Bulawayo with 13 seats may lose one or even up to three seats in the National Assembly (Lower house) - one of the two chambers of parliament with the other house being the Senate (Upper house). Further down, Matabeleland South a swing currently with 13 seats- may also be losing a possible two seats in the National Assembly-we thus cannot downplay the consequences. Yet, upwards and northwards provinces such as Harare having 29 seats may gain between one to several seats, Manicaland a swing province with 26 seats may either generate a possible one or two more seats or remain with the same number of seats. There are other provinces that on paper look set to add one or two seats each but with the permissible 20 percent +/-variance from the fixed total, there is a possibility that a decision to distribute the excess voters to nearby constituencies and again such provinces may remain with the same number of seats.

We have chosen to focus on these four provinces for a number of reasons. Empirical evidence from voting patterns shows that Bulawayo and Harare are the most significant strongholds of the opposition Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC) - never mind that it's a brand new political party. The possibility for either provinces gaining or losing seats is something that can easily seep into national literature and drive politics. Secondly, Harare has the highest number of voters while Bulawayo has the least, in fact we expect the number of voters in Harare to reach 1 million by end of 2022-that will be significant particularly for both CCC and Zanu PF as the province will likely set the tone for any presidential candidate. On the other hand, Manicaland and Matabeleland South are swing provinces meaning that we not sure which candidate will take either or both provinces. In other words Manicaland and Matabeleland South are the battlegrounds with the other being Matabeleland North which however, is not of concern in this particular instalment. Hence these are four provinces of great interest.

Therefore the most significant change is that one of the province that maybe gaining or losing seats is a key swing province of Matabeleland South, and the changes to the political map will help determine which party holds majorities in parliament through the 2020s, beginning with next year's general election. The Constitution on Section 160-161, meanwhile, has shifted delimitation decisions in the country to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) - wards and constituency lines or boundaries will be drawn in the upcoming weeks on a nonpartisan or bipartisan basis with the notable help of local authorities with regards to number of wards in each council. Any controversial proposal from political parties maybe criticised as an attempt to impinge upon the Commission's independence.

Zanu PF control the constituencies in far more provinces than do main opposition parties Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC) and MDC-Alliance combined, because of Zanu PF 'dominance' in down-ballot rural elections . National Assembly (august House) apportionment is determined by essentially dividing the registered voter population by 210 which is the total number of seats in the National Assembly those commonly referred to as MPs (Members of Parliament). We know that Zec is going to use the voters' as of 31 May 2022 which have 5.6 million voters. We just divide 210 by 5.6 million giving us about 26 000 voters. Therefore each constituency will have say 26 000 voters with a variance of +/- 20 percent. The provinces with the fastest-growing registered voters will add new seats, while those that are shrinking or growing slower than the national average may lose them.

Politics being a game of expectations, opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) will need to flip at least 48 National Assembly seats in 2023 general election to seize control of the chamber. The failure to win several seats after the MDC Alliance fielded double candidates - allowed Zanu PF to build up a two thirds majority in parliament, which it used last year for controversial amendment of the Constitution, including giving the president sweeping new powers to extend the terms of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges past their retirement age of 70. Under current settings, CCC will want a scenario of gaining of seats in its strongholds while knocking-off vital seats in Zanu PF homegrounds. On the other hand, Zanu PF will need to at least maintain their stronghold on the National Assembly or possibly add more seats to effective make it not only a two-third majority but effectively one party parliament. After all, Zanu PF's supremacy in the in two CCC strongholds during the March 26th by-elections must strengthen belief that CCC's advantage in urban areas can be overhauled and the less the seats in urban areas the better for Zanu-PF.

Who wins?

The fastest voter growing provinces are the obvious winners. Harare has added multiple seats in each delimitation process since 2000, and Manicaland has added seats after each delimitation since the 1990s.

No province has been gaining more people than Harare. In the last decade, Harare province at 2 427 209 people has effectively increased its size by almost the population of Bulawayo in the last decade - primarily because of the swarms of Zimbabweans and new urban development's moving populations en masse to its booming formal and informal settlements in and around Chitungwiza, Epworth and Hatcliff, Glen View, Mabvuku/Tafara and Norton.

Having more members of parliament means more political power for the voter growing political parties such as CCC and Zanu PF. And having more seats will highlight the priorities of these political parties in presidential contests - especially battlegrounds like Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland south - and draw greater attention from the candidates.

Before the 2002 census, the number of National Assembly seats increased as the registered voter population grew. Since the December 2007-January 2008 Delimitation Commission, the number of National Assembly seats has been capped at 210 and should not be confused with either the 60 women quota seats or the 80 Senate seats – or even the new youth seats. Gaining more seats in your stronghold means grabbing more political power from other political parties. In the last two reapportionments, Harare has added more 10 constituencies, reaching 18 seats beginning with the 2005 general election down from 19 in 2000 general election.

Who loses?

That certain provinces are losing seats is predictable, based on historical voter registration performance. A province may lose National Assembly seats for a period of reapportionments in a row. Bulawayo's imminent loss of seats is not a new phenomenon. In 2005 the province lost a single seat, down from eight seats to seven form 2000 delimitation process. Such loss of seats may reflects the slowing population growth or unique migration pattern of the nation's second largest city were the 2022 census also threw up surprising statistics. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), Bulawayo's population was 655,675 in 2012 and in 2022 it grew to 665,940 – a growth of just 10,265, or about 1,000 a year or around 85 people per month. A census 10 years earlier, in 2002, put Bulawayo's population at 676,650.

Therefore it is possible that Bulawayo maybe reaching saturation levels with regards to registered voters. Such provinces are at the messy of the delimitation process. In Bulawayo there are 270 934 registered voters as of 31 May 2022 against a population of 665,940 of which some of the residents are below 18 years- it can lose seats after every delimitation if the migration pattern persist. But the possibility of losing a seat is a new experience for Bulawayo, which doubled in population between the start of World War II and the turn of the millennium only to slow down in the past two decades. Yet, much more worrying is the likely elimination of seats in Matabeleland south where we have some minority groups such Venda and Kalanga inhabitants.

Having such groups lose seats takes away the very foundation of representation for all- the tragedy of losing a seat will have a chilling effect on other minority groups, especially smaller ones, to express themselves, raise their voices and take collective action on issues they care about. Even so, not all people will share similar concerns on primary representation of minority groups.

For those who support and wish to safeguard democracy it is imperative to ensure criticisms regarding any possible loss of seats especially by minority groups are publicly debated and placed in a context based on facts, law and agreed societal values. Ideally, such a debate will change the 'loss' narrative and help move a nation's electoral democracy in the direction of evolution, not devolution. Democracy is broadly defined as a political system that advances popular control and political equality—"government of the people, by the people, for the people". However, democracy is not associated with a single applicable model, and debates encouraging the continual evolution of how each country's democracy works should be embraced. Such evolution can include the adoption of features that safeguard a typical constituency for the minority groups to encourage inclusive representation.

Will more power shift to Zanu PF?

Remember we said according to figures from Zec a typical constituency will have roughly 26 000 +/- 20 percent. Therefore when it comes to constituencies with huge numbers of registered voters- the delimitation exercise is likely to either separate or distribute excess voters to nearby constituencies.

There are a number of constituencies that suit this scenario- starting with a huge CCC constituency in Manicaland, Dangamvura-Chikanga which had over 58 000 registered voters in 2018 (arguably CCC's best performing constituency) while in Mashonaland East we have Goromonzi South with over 63 000 which maybe also be facing some form of separation if not having some voters distributed to nearby constituencies. A combination of Zanu PF and CCC swing constituencies in Harare that include Epworth with over 63 000 and Harare South with over 60 000 in 2018 may also be separated or having some voters distributed to nearby constituencies- this is a necessary delicate situation that however, may raise issues of gerrymandering, that process of making boundaries with the aim of benefiting a certain political party.

For CCC, picking up new seats and stopping Zanu PF is going to have a high, high priority, even though they may pay a big political price down the road for instance having to foot a huge campaign bill. The 2022 Zec delimitation process will also be the first since the new Constitution took effect in May 2013 were delimitation process was linked to the census- were census data inform the delimitation process. For instance census data provide the number of adult population in Zimbabwe that Zec said stands at 8 million. Accordingly if Zec tell us that as of September 9th there were 269 000 new registered voters in 2022 which translate to a total of 5.8 million registered voters against an adult population of 8 million this gives us about 73 percent registered voters meaning that only about 27 percent of the adult population is unregistered voters.

For now we wait to see how Zec will conduct the delimitation process. What is obvious is that a raft of mostly changes to both urban and rural constituency boundaries will raise eyebrows especially that the Zec's maps are subject to a statutory test which we will call preclearance process from the President and Parliament that is controlled by Zanu PF. The Constitution on Section 161 made an attempt not to give politicians increased powers over the body that regulates their elections. However, powers that Zec have of overriding concerns that may arise from the delimitation report even if there are objections from say Zanu PF are merely symbolic and therefore in actionable in this political environment. Whether or not a province gain or lose a National Assembly seat is something that we all want to learn from Zec's final delimitation report.

Farai Chirimumimba is a freelance journalist-Democracy, Elections and Gender Issues.

Source - Farai Chirimumimba
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