While the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is setting rules to allow by-elections to be held safely during what it sees as a long-term Covid-19 pandemic, Parliament has pushed ahead for an early census and new delimitation of seats to enable constituencies in the 2023 reflect the present population distribution.
Zec originally suspended voting during the lockdown, but now considers that the public health emergency is likely to be the “new normal” and so is putting in new voting rules. Under these rules, voters will check online to see if their names are on the voters roll, will be screened for temperature before entering a polling station, and will even have to bring their own pen to mark the ballot papers.
Meanwhile, Zec is ready for filling of proportional representation seats in the Senate and National Assembly, since there is no extra voting in this regard, the results of the 2018 election being used.
When the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Assembly notifies the commission of a vacancy, this will be gazetted and the political party holding the seat will be invited to nominate a replacement.
For the 2023 harmonised elections, the Census and Statistics Amendment Bill sailed through the Senate on Thursday and awaits the President’s assent before becoming law.
Under this new law, there will be an early census, in July next year, instead of waiting for 2022, giving Zec time to delimit all 120 constituency boundaries in time for the Presidential, Parliamentary and local government elections using up-to-date census data.
Constituencies are supposed to be of equal size, within modest limits caused by provincial and district boundaries, but continual movement of people changes the distribution.
Land reform, for example, had a major change in how rural populations were distributed, and the continuous rural-to-urban migration common to most countries outside a small group of the most advanced, has to be taken into account when setting boundaries.
Even opening a new major mine can mean a boundary change as a new town arises.
Presenting the Bill in Senate last Thursday, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency should conclude the population census in July next year instead of 2022 to allow Zec enough time to use the information to delimit constituencies for the 2023 harmonised elections.
Minister Ziyambi said in terms of the law, delimitation of electoral boundaries must be completed less than six months before polling day in a general election, and if that failed to happen, boundaries that existed before the delimitation would be applicable. He said use of old constituency boundaries would not be consistent with the legal requirement that equal number of voters be registered in each constituency.
“It is now seven years into the new Constitution, we are faced with the undesirable prospect of using the same electoral boundaries as were used back in the 2013 general election for two reasons. The first is that the next census is only due to be completed in 2022. Even if all the data for 2022 was availed timeously, that still brings us uncomfortably close within the range of six months of the next election in 2023,” he said.
“Secondly, Zec will simply not have the time to do the consultation, produce the report and table before Parliament its preliminary and final delimitation reports to enable Parliament and the President to properly consider them. Remember also Madam Speaker that voter registration is done on a continuous basis by Zec.”
He said it was important that Zec depends on reliable up to date data for its delimitation. “The only achievable one in the short time available to us before the next delimitation, is to amend the Census and Statistics Act so as to align the taking of decennial national census in a manner that will enable the Zec to take into account census data in timeous fashion.”
Under the Bill, the next census must be concluded by July 2021, with a new census every 10 years from that date.
This will mean Zec will produce a new delimitation every 10 years for every other harmonised election, using good census data.
Minister Ziyambi said Zimbabwe’s democracy was based on the principle of one-person-one vote and the country had to wage a war several people paid dearly for the realisation of that right.
“The principle of one-person-one-vote has two meanings as well as signifying the entitlement of every citizen to vote at local and national elections. It also bears the meaning that one’s vote is equally as important and carries the same weight as the vote of any other person,” said Minister Ziyambi.