Census Bill garners cross-party support

28 Jun, 2020 - 00:06 0 Views
Census Bill garners cross-party support

The Sunday Mail

Lincoln Towindo

FOR seven years, a threat to the integrity of the 2023 harmonised elections has loomed large, unforeseen and unresolved.

The legal poser stems from the Constitutional provision which compels the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to draw new constituency and ward borders before the forthcoming elections.

This exercise, in terms of the Constitution, is supposed to follow immediately after a national census, which is due in 2022.

In terms of Section 161 of the Constitution, ZEC must take into account data from the preceding census when delimiting new electoral boundaries. Official findings of the national census usually take months to compile and it was anticipated that findings of the 2022 headcount would only be released late that year or early 2023.

This had set the stage for a potentially explosive administrative challenge for ZEC, amid fears that the elections management body would not have adequate time to carry out delimitation ahead of the polls.

In terms of the law, delimitation is supposed to be completed at least six months before the election, otherwise boundaries drawn during the previous delimitation exercise would be used.

The last constituency boundaries were drawn in 2007 and are fatally outdated.

Countless new settlements have developed while hundreds of thousands of people have either been born or have passed on.

It would be absurd and an aside to fairness and electoral integrity for ZEC to use those boundaries in 2023.

ZEC, on its part, has previously said delimitation has to be concluded at least a year and a half before the elections in order to have adequate time for public awareness campaigns, and for political parties and candidates to chart campaign strategies that are in sync with new boundaries.

In addition, there are also reservations about Treasury’s capability to finance a national population census, a nationwide delimitation programme and the harmonised elections within a 12-month period.

Scientific projections by civil society show that electoral boundaries for the 2023 elections will be diametrically different from those used in 2018.

Some administrative jurisdictions will most likely lose constituencies due to poor voter registration dynamics.

Findings from a recent research on prospects of delimitation conducted by independent elections civil group, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, projected a reduction in constituencies in Matabeleland provinces and Masvingo.

Reads the ZESN report: “Based on the current (February 2019) voters’ roll — decrease in the number of constituencies (Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and South, and Masvingo); there might be provinces with an increase in number of constituencies based on the registered voters (Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland West and Central) and the number of constituencies in some provinces will remain unchanged (Mashonaland East and Midlands).”

It projected that the number of constituencies in Bulawayo could fall from 12 to 10, while the number of constituencies in Harare were seen rising from 29 to 33.

Mashonaland Central constituencies were projected to rise from 18 to 20 and constituencies in Mashonaland West were seen rising from 22 to 24. For the observant, decoupling of these exercises had now become a serious matter.

Census and Statistics Amendment Bill

On June 12, Government gazetted the Census and Statistics Amendment Bill, which is a very short amendment to the current Act and is being prioritised.

This Bill is an attempt by Government to avert the scenario where unfair constituency boundaries will be used in 2023.

“This Bill will amend the Census and Statistics Act (Chapter 10:29) so as to align the taking of decennial national censuses in a manner that will enable the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to take into account census data when delimiting electoral boundaries every 10 years as required by section 161(1) of the Constitution,” reads the Bill’s memorandum.

“Accordingly, clause 2 will require a decennial census to be taken every 10th anniversary ending on the 1st July. This will afford ZEC ample time to delimit electoral boundaries in accordance with census data.”

Once the amendment is enacted into law, the national census will be conducted by July 1. This should give ZEC nearly two years to conduct delimitation before the next harmonised elections. Government is, therefore, understandably fast-tracking the Bill in Parliament. The Bill went through the second reading stage last week.

Presenting the Bill in the National Assembly last week Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the country was faced with the “undesirable” prospect of using outdated constituency boundaries.

“The next census is only due to be completed in 2022,” said Minister Ziyambi.

“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.

“Secondly, ZEC will simply not have the time to do the consultation, produce the report and lay 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 the commission.”

He cautioned that if the next election was to be held using boundaries from nearly two decades ago, then Parliament’s representativeness will be called into question.

These are all fair arguments, which any rational mind will accede to, which is probably why the Bill has garnered cross-party support.

The Census Bill has to be prioritised in order to safeguard the integrity of the 2023 vote.

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