What the Constitution says about elections – 8

In this new series Magari Mandebvu explains the constitutional provisions that govern the holding of elections in Zimbabwe. This supreme law of the land details exactly how the government of they must seek a mandate to govern from the people. We all need to be aware of just how this is supposed to done.

What happens after the delimitation commission has completed its work:

Section 161 continues:

(7) After delimiting wards and constituencies, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must submit to the President a preliminary report containing-

(a)    a list of the wards and constituencies, with the names assigned to each and a description of their boundaries;

(b) a map or maps showing the wards and constituencies; and

(c)   any further information or particulars which the Commission considers necessary;

and the President must cause the preliminary delimitation report to be laid before Parliament within seven days.

Now we come to consider whether we can expect all the conditions laid down for delimiting constituencies to be observed. Notice the time scale laid down here. Times are carefully defined in the following clauses.

(8)   Within fourteen days after a preliminary delimitation report has been laid before Parliament-

(a) the President may refer the report back to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission for further consideration of any matter or issue;

(b) either House may resolve that the report should be referred back to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission for further consideration of any matter or issue, and in that event the President must refer the report back to the Commission for that further consideration.

So either House of Parliament  or the President may suggest alterations to the proposed boundaries, but must do so within 14 days of the report being submitted to parliament.

  • Where a preliminary delimitation report has been referred back to it under subsection (8). the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must give further consideration to the matter or issue concerned, but the Commission’s decision on it is final.

Note that parliament and President may suggest alterations and the Commission must consider their suggestions, but neither President nor parliament can dictate to the Commission. President and parliament may see the result as affecting their interests, so this is an important point. Just as importantly, the Electoral Commission must be impartial and be clearly seen to be impartial; they must observe all the rules and advice of this section strictly.

The time factor comes into the next two clauses:

(10) As soon as possible after complying with subsections (7) and (9), the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must submit a final delimitation report to the President.

(11) Within fourteen days after receiving the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s final report, the President must publish a proclamation in the Gazette declaring the names and boundaries of the wards and constituencies as finally determined by the Commission.

The Commission must consider any alterations suggested, without a time limit but a quick consideration of the few suggestions we might expect should not take long and anyway the Commission’s decision on the suggestions is final.

So when does the process start and how long will the whole delimitation take?

The first step is the census and that is set to be held from the 21st to the 30th of April 2022.

Processing the results is a complex process because a census is more than a count of the population. Data needed for national planning, on age and income distribution among the population, incomes, education, health services &c, so that complete processing all the results will take years, but a simple population count, indicating how many people are of voting age, can be expected in six months. That means the Electoral Commission can begin its work at the beginning of November.

Then the time frame looks like this:

I list possible dates for the completion of each stage, but there are several uncertainties, dealt with below

  activity Time taken Date finished
1 Population count by census 6 months (?) 31 October 2022
2 Delimitation of constituencies by ZEC 3 months (at least) 31 January 2023 at earliest
3 Delivery to President 1 week 7 February 2023
4 Review by President & parliament 2 weeks 14 February 2023
5 (possible referral back to ZEC) Not specified 21 February 2023?
6 Final report by ZEC Not specified 28 February 2023?
7 President publishes list of constituencies No more than14 days 14 March 2023
  President announces date of election, after consultation with ZEC    
8 Nomination by parties & registration of candidates by ZEC At least 30 days 13 May 2023?
9 BUT: Polling is not to be held more than 30 days before the expiry of 5 years from the date of swearing-in of the President   Not before13 July 2023

Notice that stage 9 is defined by reference to the term of office of the President, according to sections 158 (1) and 144 (1) and not the sequence of events listed as 1-8 in this table.

There are uncertainties in the table:

1 & 2 are guesses based on previous experience. If they take longer than my estimate, then all the following stages start that much later.

3 & 4: times taken are set by the Constitution

5 &6 have no time limit set, but they might not occur at all if nobody questions the preliminary delimitation report. In that case, the further items on the list will be completed 2 weeks earlier tan my estimate

7 & 8 are allowed set periods for completion.

But on first reading I thought that the President’s announcement of the delimited constituencies was the date of announcing the election. Reading more carefully, we see there is no such connection. The only guide to when this declaration will be made is clause 144(1) taken with 144(3):

  • Where Parliament has not earlier passed resolutions to dissolve in terms of section 143(2), the President must by proclamation call and set dates for a general election to be held within the period prescribed in section 158.

(3) The dates for a general election called in terms of subsection (1) or (2) must be fixed by the President after consultation with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Meaning he can call it for any date after 13 July.

A big question remains: can the voters roll be made available to everyone concerned in time for the election process to be transparent? This was not done for the last two elections: while ZANU(PF) had copies in time for them to approach every voter, the other parties only got their copies very late, and in a form that could not be properly analysed in the time left before voting.

There is also room to doubt whether constituency boundaries delimited according to the provisions of this Act will be used in the election, because section 161 (2) of the Constitution says:

If a delimitation of electoral boundaries is completed less than six months before polling day in a general election, the boundaries so delimited do not apply to that election, and instead the boundaries that existed immediately before the delimitation are applicable.

So the two crucial events than need to be timed carefully are:

Publishing of the voters’ roll and

Delineation of constituencies.

These are the points which will need to be watched most carefully. If there are irregularities on these points, any  election cannot be considered free or fair. We all need to watch especially the dates of publishing the voters roll and the delimitation o constituencies, but also whether the voters roll is easy to check.

Because of the importance of this issue I will conclude next week with reference to what the Electoral Act says, which goes into the details that a Constitution cannot be expected to define precisely.

Post published in: Featured

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *