The festive season passed swiftly and the New Year, 2023, is here. A year that will be long, too long for business and civil society operations because of the watershed general elections likely to be held in July or August this year.
Parliament was last week summoned to deal with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s preliminary delimitation report. The report, which if adopted, will create new electoral boundaries for the country, has been received with mixed emotions.
Academics and civil society organisations have raised the points of gerrymandering and unequal constituencies. The Constitution is clear that the difference between the biggest and smallest constituency cannot be more than 20% in voters. However, the commission seems to have disregarded that because some constituencies have a difference as high as 40%.
These differences go right to the centre of representative democracy.
How is it possible that 22 000 people can have the same voice as 33 000 people? The interesting aspect is that most of the constituencies that have smaller numbers are in rural communities which for long have been Zanu PF strongholds, while urban constituencies, opposition strongholds, are generally underrepresented as they have 33 000 voters. In simple terms, the rural vote carries more weight than the urban vote.
Some Zanu PF Members of Parliament (MPs) have also raised complaints against the report.
They argue that some peri-urban constituencies now have more voters from urban areas, thus diluting their advantage or making the seats skewed in opposition direction. It remains to be seen how MPs will debate the report.
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The Constitution is very clear that a delimitation report should be adopted at least six months before polling day for it to be used in an election. In layman’s language, assuming elections can at latest be held by August 23, 2023 it means the last possible date to adopt the report is somewhere around the last week of February this year.
Failure to adopt the report means Zec will hold elections using the same electoral boundaries used in the 2018 polls. The 2018 boundaries are greatly biased against the urban voters. Some constituencies in Harare have between 46 000 and 76 000 registered voters, meaning that they are three or four times bigger than the smallest constituencies with about 15 000 voters.
Heads or tails, Zanu PF still emerge victors from the delimitation exercise. The opposition in other words is fighting against time.
Challenging the report in court is a sure way to use the 2018 boundaries, which suits Zanu PF perfectly. Interestingly, the opposition has been reactive like always. The national census report has been in the public domain since last year, yet it did not, collectively, analyse and highlight that the variation in voters between constituencies cannot be more than 20%.
This was a lost opportunity. A lost opportunity on electoral reforms, despite that the opposition has been raising the matter since 2000.
Going to courts to fight this will once again prove the opposition has one tool in its toolbox — legal action — to all problems.
Any uncertainty on elections will erode business confidence. It will spur business to behave with a siege mentality and try to make as much profit as it can during the turmoil. Ordinary workers, villagers and pensioners will carry the burden of this man-made chaos.
The Political Actors Dialogue (Polad), President Emerson Mnangagwa’s platform to interact with opposition leaders, has failed to inform electoral reforms. It has been another gravy train. Yes, some Polad members spoke out, but it seems only the platform was used effectively as a safety valve. It was successfully used to demobilise opposition from using other tools like political action: Demonstrations, picketing or petitioning.
This is going to be a long year, really long for nearly everyone – business, workers, civil society organisations, pensioners and even voters. A prolonged electioneering period is bad for the country.
Previous experience has taught us: Violence goes up, police actions are put under scrutiny and democratic space is curtailed.
It would be irresponsible of me to let Parliament escape some censure.
With all due respect, the 9th Parliament has been the least effective since 1980. It mainly passed legislation that is mandatory — monetary Bills and nothing much. It never initiated a backbencher Bill in five years. It was just there, complained about it’s welfare and most likely would be very meek after the US$40 000 housing loans.
We have men and women who thought more of their welfare than developing the country. This has been our pitfall, sending yes men and women to be the people’s representatives.
If there is any change that Zimbabwe needs, it is the calibre of its public representatives. This should be based on merit. Men and women who have known agendas. We need people known for fighting workers’ rights, pension rights, environmentalists, health rights, education and housing issues. We need MPs who can debate the budget, people who can fight for tax reforms. This is not expecting too much, but the reality of what wen want as a country.
The electorate: Make your pick.
- Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.