Chaos under heaven, but bickering on elections redeemable: Parliament
MEMBERS of Parliament (MPs) say the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s hotly-contested and controversial delimitation report currently being debated in the legislature ahead of crucial general elections in a few months’ time has numerous game-changing errors, flaws and blunders which threaten the integrity, credibility and even timing of the polls.
This emerged after Parliament’s 13-member ad hoc committee, chaired by Zanu PF chief whip Pupurai Togarepi, released a measured, yet hard-hitting analysis on the delimitation report that has sparked uproar and outrage within political circles.
In its analysis, the committee came up with key findings and observations which include:
· ward boundaries delimited above and below the maximum and minimum thresholds;
· insufficient information in descriptions of wards;
· a highly complicated geometrical coordinate system;
· unspecified map or cartographic scale (ratio of a distance on earth compared to the same distance on a map;
· unlabelled wards;
· topographic features not presented on the maps;
· maps that do not show old and existing boundaries;
· lack of justification on changes in boundaries in specific wards and constituencies,
· polling stations not indicated on the maps (Zimbabwe’s polling stations not on Google Maps – making them difficult to locate, unlike other Sadc countries);
· use of preliminary population census data instead of final statistics; and
· possible misinterpretation of the minimum and maximum threshold.
The committee was tasked with conducting a detailed analysis of the delimitation report concerning the provisions of section 161 of the constitution and presented its findings and recommendations in the National Assembly and Senate on 13 January 2023.
The committee’s report would form the basis for debate by both houses on 17 and 18 January 2023. Parliament would then submit its report on the delimitation document to President Emmerson Mnangagwa by 20 January 2023 for onward submission to Zec.
These processes are to be completed within 14 days in terms of section 161 (8) of the constitution.
However, given the damning findings by Parliament on the disputed formula used by Zec to do its calculations, use of the preliminary census report instead of the final one, the absence of the voters’ roll which MPs did not get, fights over wards and constituency boundaries, problems of demographic mapping and distribution of voters and justification of the changes – among a catalogue of problems mentioned earlier – there is a major problem.
Zec is in a quandary.
The elections are under threat. Chaos under heaven.
What is to be done?
There is not enough time for Zec to rectify the plethora of flaws identified in Parliament.
According to section 161(2) of the constitution, the delimitation must be completed – that is, the delimitation report must be published – at least six months before polling day in a general election if the new electoral boundaries are to be used for that election.
Polling day in the 2023 general elections will have to be:
· at the earliest, on 28 July
· at the latest on 26 August
If polling day is fixed at 28 July, then the delimitation report will have to be published on 28 January – in two weeks’ time – to allow the necessary six months to elapse between the completion of delimitation and voting day.
However, if the elections are set for 26 August the last possible day when the current Parliament ends, the delimitation report would need to be published by 26 February.
Race against the clock
In its report, Parliament says Zec needs to address the fundamental limitations of the delimitation document.
“The committee’s findings in its analysis of the 2022 preliminary delimitation report provide a basis for its conclusion on the 2022 preliminary report on the delimitation exercise,” the parliamentary analysis says.
“While the committee appreciates that it is not possible for Zec to meet the expectations of all the stakeholders in this exercise, it is the committee’s considered view that all the issues raised in this report, particularly, those that are inconsistent with provisions of section 161 of the constitution will be resolved before the finalisation of the report on the delimitation exercise.
“As espoused in section 119 of the constitution, Parliament has an obligation to protect the constitution and ensure that the state and all institutions and agencies of government at every level act constitutionally and in the national interest.”
While the necessary groundwork has largely been done, the shortcomings raised by Parliament are fundamental and numerous to be addressed in two weeks or six weeks. Either way, Zec cannot complete the process if it genuinely takes on board the key criticisms, findings and recommendations.
If Zec goes only for compliance with the constitution and shifts constituency and ward boundaries around so as to bring them into conformity with the law, it may have time for the final report to be published by the 26 February deadline.
But given that the corrected report will not have to be resubmitted to the President and Parliament since Zec has the final say in terms of the constitution, it leaves the process open to court challenge towards or after the elections.
There is just not enough time to complete the process.
To go back to 2007 or postpone
If the deadlines are not met, elections are supposed to be held in terms of the last delimitation, which was done in 2007/2008. That is the first scenario.
However, things have dramatically changed in the last 15 years from a census, demographics, topographic, and cartographic or mapping perspective. The coordinate geometric system used is different.
Therefore, going back to 2007/2008 would make the elections untenable and reduce the government to a laughing stock. This is what the Zec commissioners who have revolted against chairperson Priscilla Chigumba and want the nation to work backwards do not realise in their letter of protest to Mnangagwa.
If that is done, the elections would lose integrity and credibility well before polling day.
The second scenario is postponing the elections. Mnangagwa and Zanu PF may use their parliamentary majority to do so, but the credibility of the President and government would be left in tatters. That might also be viewed by the opposition as fear of defeat and could actually galvanise and spur renewed challenge against Mnangagwa and his party.
Consultations are always key
All this would probably have been avoided if Zec had been more open in its conduct of the delimitation exercise, as MPs indicated in Parliament. If political parties, civil society and communities had been consulted on what Zec proposed to do and had been kept informed at every stage of the process, a lot of contradictions, shortcomings and errors would have been avoided, as analysts say.