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Constituency boundaries undermine fair elections



ACADEMIC Philan Zamchiya and independent think-tanks have warned against the holding of this year’s general elections under the new constituency boundaries created by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in its latest delimitation exercise.


The experts describe the controversial delimitation report as a constitutional nullity due to fatal errors made, while heavily tilted in favour of Zanu PF. Zamchiya predicted that even though Zec has promised to correct the errors, it was unlikely to do so holistically due to political pressures from the government and the ruling Zanu PF.

He made the remarks on Thursday evening during an online policy dialogue meeting on delimitation convened by the Southern African Political Economy Series (Sapes) Trust in conjunction with the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU).

“Delimitation is not just a rational process, it is a hot political affair in an authoritarian hybrid regime like Zimbabwe. The regime will always want to tilt the boundaries in their favour.
There is supposed to be an independent commission but its work is affected by the government-party conflation,” he said.

Zamchiya also said that in its current form, the delimitation exercise favours Zanu PF, which will win a two-thirds majority if the elections are held using new boundaries created by Zec.
He said 60 constituencies that were strongholds of the opposition in 2018 had been diluted to favour Zanu PF.

“Zec preferred to use the 40% variance formula instead of the legal 20% in order to favour the ruling party because it will ensure that the opposition would win big in few constituencies where there are overstated voters while Zanu PF will win majority seats on slim margins in mostly rural areas with understated voters.”

“However, on the presidential election race, the formula will favour the opposition candidate because Zimbabwe will be like a single big constituency,” he said.

Zamchiya added that it was for that reason that there is now “elite dis-cohesion” in Zanu PF as supporters of President Emmerson Mnangagwa are fighting the delimitation report while those of Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga are in support of the exercise.

“Going forward, there are four scenarios that are likely to happen to the delimitation report. The first one is a stalemate in which Zec will fail to finish the exercise six months before the elections and present an option to revert to 2008 boundaries, which however will be illegal.”

“The second one is of a breakthrough, where Zec will correct all the anomalies which will favour the opposition, but this one is unlikely due to authoritarian rule that exists in the country.”

“The third one is a drag-through where elections will be postponed to allow Zec more time to come up with an acceptable delimitation arrangement. However, it is unlikely because hybrid regimes have a penchant to stick to exact timelines on elections in order to satisfy the legitimacy requirement.”

“The fourth one is a muddling-through or seesaw kind of arrangement where Zec will correct some errors in order to pacify some critics and appear like a better devil. This one is the most likely one.”

“As a solution, civil society must push for the break-through and drag-out scenarios. I would not mind if elections were postponed by two or three months for Zec to have adequate time to come up with constitutionally correct delimitation boundaries but under the oversight of the regional and international community before the country can go for free and fair elections,” said Zamchiya.

He reiterated that civil society organisations (CSOs) are too weak to challenge the delimitation process for fear of being victimised through the Private Voluntary Organisations law that will see the government controlling CSOs with power to even deregister them.

Former cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo said instead of civil society and opposition parties complaining a lot on social media, they were supposed to make written submissions to Zec on the corrections they wanted made on the Zec report since what was presented was not the final draft.

“Unfortunately, it is only Parliament which has tabled presentations for corrections of the delimitation report,” he said.

The former Information minister also said that unlike other people who are saying the errors made by Zec were out of political influence, he believed it was pure incompetence and lack of technical skills of the electoral body’s officers that resulted in the bungling of the delimitation exercise.

“What has gone fundamentally wrong is that there was technical incompetence. In the past like in 2007, delimitation was done by an ad hoc committee of people with the specific skills for the exercise and they would do just that. This Zec is a bambazonke (jack of all trades) and do a lot of things at the same time. During delimitation they were also doing voter registration and conducting by-elections. They were more wanting on the technical part of it,” he said.

Academic Ibbo Mandaza also warned against the holding of elections using the new contested boundaries of constituencies and urged civil society to coordinate challenges to the Zec report.

“There is history of rigging in the country. Should we stand by and see history repeating itself? Our challenge is that we have a weak civil society and it’s very pathetic. As Sapes Trust and RAU, we have tried to keep the fire burning on the issue of the delimitation, but the big question is: What more must be done?” he asked.

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