The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has said it does not intend to conduct a new delimitation of constituencies and wards for the 2018 elections and will conduct the elections on the basis of the constituencies and wards gazetted ahead of the 2008 elections.

The ZEC position may be based on the questionable argument, having decided to wait until they had completed a new voter registration exercise using Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) before doing a delimitation exercise, they have now run out of time. 

ZEC has said it aims to complete BVR by 31st December 2017.  It would be impossible to complete any new delimitation based on a new roll by the deadline set by section 161(2) of the Constitution which states:  “If a delimitation of electoral boundaries is completed less than six months before polling day in a general election, the boundaries … do not apply to that election, and instead the boundaries that existed immediately before the delimitation are applicable.”  The latest possible polling day in the general election is the 21st August 2018.  New electoral boundaries would therefore have to be finally delimited by the 21st February to be valid for use in the latest possible general election.

However, VERITAS Zimbabwe says failure to conduct a proper delimitation before the 2018 general election is likely to affect the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral outcome.  “There was cause for concern that the electoral boundaries in the 2013 elections were not accurate or representative of the voter population distribution.  That risk will be higher in the 2018 elections.”

The object of delimitations is to ensure that each person’s vote is equal to every other person’s vote.  “If there are significant differences in the number of voters in each constituency, the votes cast by voters in constituencies with fewer voters will count for more than the votes cast in constituencies with larger numbers of voters,” notes the watchdog.

Delay in holding a new delimitation may mean that constituencies and wards vary by more than the 20% difference prescribed by the Constitution, resulting in court challenges.

In the 2013 elections everything was done at the last minute.  The excuse then was that the chairperson of ZEC was new and the Constitution was new and unfamiliar.  The excuse now seems to be lack of funds from government.  If that is so, the elections are controlled by the political party in power and not by ZEC.  BVR voter registration has been delayed so long that a fresh delimitation cannot realistically be held.  The previous voters roll has not been made available.  The result will be an election that is unsatisfactory at best. 

The Constitution lays down the principles that must be followed by ZEC in conducting delimitations. Section 161 provides that: “(3) The boundaries of constituencies must be such that, so far as possible, at the time of delimitation equal numbers of voters are registered in each constituency within Zimbabwe. (4) The boundaries of wards must be such that, so far as possible, at the time of delimitation equal numbers of voters are registered in each ward of the local authority concerned.”

Section 161 also stipulates that wards should not be divided between two or more local authority areas or constituencies and that in delimiting wards and constituencies, ZEC must give due consideration to:

Of particular interest is the provision regarding community of interest between voters in an area.  In the past there have been accusations of gerrymandering (manipulation of boundaries to favour a party) by joining urban and rural areas in a single constituency to dilute the urban vote.

The last delimitation was in 2007/8, before the 2008 election.  It was conducted in terms of the old constitution, and was based on the Registrar-General’s voters roll.  The old constitution made no linkage with delimitation and a population census.

For the first election after the new Constitution came into operation, the new Constitution had a transitional provision [Sixth Schedule, paragraph 5] which provided that “the boundaries of provinces, constituencies and wards as they were immediately before the publication day [of the Constitution] apply for the purposes of the first elections”.  So the 2008 delimitation was used for the first elections under the new Constitution in July 2013.

The next delimitation should be held before the 2018 general election.  Those arguing for this option contends that the new Constitution did not commence in a vacuum and that 2008, the year of the last population census, must be taken as the start of the ten-year cycle for delimitations. They also point to the need for a new delimitation, given the criticism directed at the 2008 delimitation, which included allegations of blatant gerrymandering in favour of ZANU-PF.  An additional point is that the Constitution makes the old delimitation applicable only to the 2013 elections.

The alternative view is that the next delimitation should be held before the 2023 general election not the 2018 election.  Those arguing for this option contend that the ten-year cycle for delimitations started with 2013, the year the Constitution was adopted and came into force, rather than 2008, the year in which the last delimitation was held.  This is a more tenuous argument. 

VERITAS contends that delaying the 2018 general election to allow for an acceptable and credible delimitation based on a new voters roll now out of the question, as the Constitution has set the timing of the next elections.

So ZEC is left with its decision to using the 2007/8 delimitation exercise for the coming elections based on the voters roll for the 2008 elections and the 2002 census. But the challenge is that of having the prospect of a general election conducted on a new and better voters roll but marred by outdated constituencies and wards in which the numbers of voters vary beyond the 20 per cent limit prescribed in section 16(6) of the Constitution.  “And if the BVR exercise is not completed on time or proves unsatisfactory, we will have to fall back on not only a totally out of date delimitation of constituency and ward boundaries but a voters’ roll that is generally recognised as seriously inaccurate.” Further notes the watchdog. 

Doing a delimitation exercise right now based on the voters roll used in the 2013 elections. This may be preferable to using the 2007/8 voters roll.  The question is: would ZEC be able to do this now?  Or are they now overstretched doing the BVR?