The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) expresses concern over the new dates that have been set by the government for the conducting of the population census and delimitation exercise. The new dates were announced in the latest post Cabinet press briefing, in which the government indicated that the country remains on course to conduct the Census within the prescribed time frame for the 2023 Elections. The actual population census is commencing in April 2022, and the results expected in August 2022, paving way for the Constituencies Delimitation in October 2022 with 31 December 2022 being the last day allowed for delimitation.
This comes at a time when CSOs are pushing for electoral reforms before the next election, and delimitation being one of the key reforms in the electoral cycle with a bearing on the credibility of electoral outcomes. The Delimitation Exercise is prescribed under section 161 (1) of the Constitution on Delimitation of Electoral Boundaries; which provides that; “Once every ten years, on a date or within a period fixed by the Commission so as to fall as soon as possible after a population census, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must conduct a delimitation of the electoral boundaries into which Zimbabwe is to be divided.”
The Network believes that the census provides a useful resultant dataset in the delimitation exercise which could help in improving the integrity of the delimitation exercise. However, mindful of the provisions of section 161 (2) which postulates that: “If a delimitation of electoral boundaries is completed less than six months before polling day in a general election, the boundaries so delimited do not apply to that election, and instead the boundaries that existed immediately before the delimitation are applicable.”, ZESN is worried that the result of the delimitation may become academic if the exercise is completed six months before the elections, making it impossible for ZEC to use the drawn boundaries for the harmonised elections scheduled in July 2023.
Assuming that the next general election is held as provided for in the Constitution under section 143 on Duration and Dissolution of Parliament, the Network is concerned that the timelines proposed by Cabinet are likely to compromise the delimitation process in terms of the quality. (Parliament is elected for a five-year term which runs from the date on which the President-elect is sworn in and assumes office in terms of Section 94 (1) (a), and parliament stands dissolved at midnight on the day before the first polling day in the next general election called in terms of Section 144.)
Taking into account that the current electoral boundaries are arguably no longer representative of the voters with the last delimitation exercise conducted in 2008, ZESN urges the government to give ZEC ample time to conduct a thorough and quality process so that new electoral boundaries can be used in the next election. The Network, therefore, calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to bring forward the date of commencement of the Census so that the delimitation exercise is completed before December 2022.
Boundary delimitation must be open, transparent, and inclusive. Citizens and electoral stakeholders must be consulted and involved. However, the three-month window from October to December 2022 during which delimitation will be taking place is too short and too tight and the opportunity to build confidence, trust, and ownership of the process, through the engagement of citizens and key electoral stakeholders will be lost. Compounding the situation is the absence of clarity on the process, what could be possibly be done simultaneously with the census if any, and a predictable boundary delimitation calendar, making it difficult for stakeholders to plan accordingly and contribute meaningfully to the process.
ZESN, therefore, urges the Government and ZEC to take the impending delimitation exercise seriously in order to avoid contested election boundaries, which may yet again result in contested elections.