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New boundaries binding for next 10 years

05 Mar 2023 at 06:17hrs | Views
THE gazetting of new electoral boundaries a fortnight ago by President Mnangagwa has paved the way for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to begin preparations for the 2023 harmonised elections. The Sunday Mail's DEBRA MATABVU (DM) spoke to ZEC chief elections officer MR UTLOILE SILAIGWANA (US) about the just-ended delimitation exercise and preparations for the general elections.

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DM: Can you outline lessons you have drawn from undertaking the inaugural delimitation exercise under the 2013 Constitution?

US: On a point of correction, the just-concluded delimitation exercise was the inaugural exercise under the current Constitution and the second for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

The gazetted boundaries will be binding for the next 10 years, and not only for the 2023 elections.

As for the lessons learnt, while the Commission is yet to compile a comprehensive list of lessons learnt from the 2022/2023 delimitation exercise, the following stood out prominently:

Use of technology was central to the 2022/2023 delimitation exercise as compared to the 2007/2008 exercise. While in 2007/2008, blocks were used as units to create wards, the 2022/2023 exercise made use of polling areas to create the wards and then constituencies;

The adoption of new technologies in the delimitation process also helped in the digitisation of maps thereby enhancing the speed at which boundaries and related maps are produced;

Use of enhanced technologies also expedited the process and helped to reduce the number of people engaged during the exercise;

Most of the topographic maps used required constant ground truthing as they were outdated;

Abundance of skill in geographic information systems enhanced the operationalisation of the process;

Stakeholder consultation is critical in any electoral process, including delimitation. While the Commission made every effort to consult stakeholders, some did not attend, only for them to complain of not being consulted after realising that the Commission had submitted the preliminary report to the President;

The Commission needs to continuously interact with stakeholders as the previous delimitation exercise was conducted 15 years ago. And so, many people were not aware of the processes involved in delimitation despite ZEC having held several publicity and sensitisation programmes;

Geospatial technologies are key in boundary delimitation but have to be complemented by ground work, which the Commission did extremely well through global positioning systems (GPS); and

In as much as social media has opened opportunities for easy access to information, it also comes with its own challenges, for example, spreading of falsehoods, which makes it difficult for the Commission to execute its mandate.

DM: What would you say were the biggest challenges you faced during the exercise?

US: There was lack of appreciation of the procedural aspects of delimitation as provided for in the Constitution by some stakeholders.

There was also abuse of social media by some quarters, with the intent to discourage participation in electoral processes.

DM: How much did ZEC use to undertake the exercise and was the funding adequate, in your opinion?

US: The delimitation exercise was adequately funded to the tune of $9 billion.

DM: Are there any areas you feel ZEC could have done better during the course of the exercise?

US: The criteria and procedures for conducting the delimitation exercise are clearly outlined in sections 160 and 161 of the Constitution.

In view of the aforementioned provisions, the Commission did its level best.

It is, therefore, the Commission's conviction that the exercise could not have been conducted in any way better outside the laid-down procedures.

DM: We understand ZEC plans to undertake a nationwide stakeholders engagement exercise to publicise the new electoral boundaries. When will this exercise commence and what will it entail?

US: Indeed, the Commission will soon embark on an extensive post-delimitation awareness programme to sensitise the electorate on the newly delimited boundaries.

The programme will be multi-faceted and entail engaging various stakeholder groups, deployment of voter education officers, use of both print and electronic media and use of the ZEC website and social media platforms.

The delimitation report is already in the public domain and anyone who wishes to have sight of it can download it from the ZEC website, www.zec.org.zw, or purchase a copy of the Statutory Instrument 14 of 2023 from any Printflow outlet.

The Commission will ensure that ZEC provincial and district offices also have copies of the gazetted report.

DM: Gazetting of the delimitation report by President Mnangagwa paved the way for ZEC to commence preparations for the election proper. May you please take us through what preparations for the elections will entail?

US: Preparing for elections is not different from preparing for any major electoral process.

It entails planning for both human and material resources, capacitation of officers, mobilisation of resources.

It also entails making sure that major activities and time frames are met prior to the election day.

The Commission is finalising the roadmap to the elections, which will be shared with stakeholders once the election date has been proclaimed by His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

DM: How much funding will ZEC require to conduct the 2023 elections and is the elections management body fully resourced to conduct the polls?

US: The Commission requires $128,6 billion for the elections. Treasury has always honoured its obligation to fund the Commission.

DM: Can you outline the preliminary roadmap to the 2023 elections that ZEC intends to use to prepare for the forthcoming elections?

US: The key 2023 harmonised elections roadmap milestones which stakeholders should look forward to include the following:

Continuous voter education on post-delimitation boundary awareness, mobile voter registration blitz, voters' roll inspection, nomination of candidates and polling process;

Voter registration blitz scheduled to commence on March 12, 2023;

Voters' roll inspection after the blitz, as part of the voters' roll cleaning process;

Accreditation of observers and the media;

Voters' roll production and nomination of candidates;

Establishment of Multi-Party Liaison Committee; and

Recruitment, training and deployment of various categories of electoral officers.

DM: Last year, ZEC conducted two nationwide voter registration campaigns to facilitate commencement of the delimitation exercise. Does ZEC plan to undertake another blitz this year and if so, when?

US: Yes, the Commission will undertake a nationwide mobile voter registration exercise from March 12 to 21, 2023, as it normally does before any general election.

The voter registration blitz will provide an opportunity for new registrants to register and for the existing registrants to apply for transfers.

Currently, trainings to equip voter educators, voter registration officers and their supervisors is underway in preparation for the blitz.

DM: When will ZEC operationalise the National Multi-Party Liaison Committee? What role is this committee expected to play in facilitating a free, fair and credible election?

US: The Commission will soon establish and operationalise the National Multi-Party Liaison Committee, in terms of Section 160B (1) of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13].

The specific dates will be communicated in due course.

The roles of the National Multi-Party Liaison Committee are set out in section 160C of the Electoral Act and are as follows:

To hear and attempt to resolve any disputes, concerns, matters or grievances relating to the electoral process, including, in particular, any disputes arising from allegations concerning non-compliance with the code (of conduct);

To create and establish multi-party liaison subcommittees in each province;

To delegate any of its functions to any multi-party liaison subcommittee; and

To monitor, supervise or direct the activities of multi-party liaison subcommittees.

DM: Some opposition parties have accused ZEC of lacking transparency in its operations, including during the delimitation exercise. What is your response to these allegations?

US: The Commission believes that it did its best to consult different categories of stakeholders prior and during the actual delimitation process.

The Commission held meetings with traditional leaders, the media, civil society organisations, political parties, Government ministries and departments.

More than 90 such meetings and engagements were held before and during delimitation fieldwork throughout the country.

The first round of engagements focused on explaining the constitutional provisions of the delimitation process, as well as to gather stakeholder input into the delimitation process.

The second round of engagements were conducted towards the drafting of the preliminary report where stakeholders were consulted on the proposed electoral boundaries, i.e. wards and constituencies.

Therefore, the Commission acted in the best possible manner in engaging, consulting and informing stakeholders about all its processes during the just-ended delimitation exercise.

Currently, the Commission has lined up a series of planned activities aimed at informing and engaging with stakeholders on the new electoral boundaries and events leading to the general elections.

Source - The Sunday Mail
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