BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
BULAWAYO’s loss of any constituency in the delimitation exercise will result in under-representation with devastating consequences on development and legislative priorities for the city, civic groups and political parties warned as they called for decentralisation of voter registration.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has repeatedly warned that the country’s second city risks losing two to three constituencies in the next delimitation exercise as the voter registered population falls far short of the minimum threshold.
In June, the government announced the population census would kick off in April next year with results expected in August while the delimitation exercise —the creation of new electoral boundaries — is expected to start in October, ending in December 2022.
A delimitation exercise is provided for under section 161 (1) of the Constitution on Delimitation of Electoral Boundaries.
Constituency and ward boundaries have not been redrawn since the 2008 elections.
ZEC Bulawayo provincial elections officer Innocent Ncube warned the city risks losing some constituencies in the delimitation exercise citing massive voter registration apathy in the city. He revealed that the elections body is registering less than a dozen new voters every month.
Bulawayo currently has 12 constituencies. Ahead of the 2000 and 2005 elections, Bulawayo had eight and seven seats, respectively.
Analysts, opposition parties and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) argued that Bulawayo has more to lose if the number of constituencies is reduced in the next delimitation exercise as they called for a multi-stakeholder approach to encourage city residents to register to vote.
“Any city or area losing representation or constituency, it means less representation in Parliament, something that is extremely devastating. So, at the end of the day there will be serious under-representation in Parliament,” Bulawayo-based commentator Effie Ncube said.
“Under-representation means fewer voices in Parliament for development in Bulawayo, for the legislative priorities for the people of Bulawayo, and other things.
“It means Bulawayo would have less influence in Parliament than it should as the second largest city in the country.”
Zesn programmes coordinator Ellen Dingani weighed in, saying this will mean less Constituency Development Fund (CDF) allocations for development projects to Bulawayo, a city that suffers urban decay.
All legislators are entitled to CDF allocations to implement development projects in their constituencies.
“As you also know, there is the CDF that MPs get and this would have its effect further reduced because of misleading numbers,” Dingani said.
“The major negative will be the issue of the CDF, meaning that if Bulawayo loses two constituencies, it also loses CDF for those seats that are given to every MPs to develop their constituency.”
In his 2021 budget, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube allocated $420 million to the CDF, which translated to $2 million per constituency and 10 times more than the $200 000 allocated to MPs in 2020.
Mqondisi Moyo, the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) president, added: “Under-representation means that less is known by the central government about Bulawayo’s needs.
“It also means that less is availed to the city in the form of resources and development initiatives,” Moyo said.
“With the Local Government ministry tightening its grip daily on city affairs, under-representation will allow unnecessary meddling into city business by central government, and that alone spells doom for the people of Bulawayo.”
There has been no major development project in Bulawayo for the past decades.
The last known major development project is the Egodini Mall which remains unfinished.
Ncube pleaded with politicians and their respective political parties to up voter registration awareness campaigns to save the city from losing some seats.
“It is up to politicians to make sure that people come and register to vote,” Ncube said.
Analysts and the opposition, however, blame voter apathy on ZEC’s “torturous” process of voter registration while adding that people have lost trust in ZEC to conduct any free, fair and transparent electoral process.
“People do not trust that their vote translates to the change that they desire,” said Effie Ncube.
“They don’t see elections as a mechanism towards achieving their political objective, their socio-economic objectives, eradicating poverty and/or changing the direction of the country, then people just stay at home.”
Opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa to date still questions President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legitimacy, citing vote fraud in the 2018 harmonised elections.
Patrick Ndlovu, the Zapu Bulawayo provincial spokesperson, blamed ZEC for failure to undertake sufficient voter registration awareness campaigns to “deepen awareness among people as to the level of importance of participating in electoral processes.”
“I have not seen any banner from ZEC on voter registration awareness,” Ndlovu said.
MDC Alliance Bulawayo provincial spokesperson Swithern Chirowodza noted: “As if that were not enough, the Registrar General’s office in Bulawayo says it currently does not have enough material to make national identification cards.
“One can’t register without a national identification card.”
Zesn and opposition parties called on ZEC to decentralise voter registration and increase awareness campaigns in Bulawayo.
“If ZEC can also decentralise further from provincial to district to other areas that are strategic and this could be shopping centres or even clinics so that we have people utilising this opportunity of continuous voter registration throughout the electoral cycle as provided for in the law,” Dingani said.
She added: “The fact that voter registration is voluntary and not mandatory then means we need to have some programmes as a civic society that encourage citizens to go out and register and to have a voters’ roll reflecting the exact number of people that are supposed to register to vote.”
Zesn’s electoral education and capacity building department is currently engaged in a voter registration drive by means of community and national radio programmes, video skits and the production of information, education and communication materials such as fliers translated into local languages.
Effie Ncube weighed in urging the “government and electoral authorities to go out of their way in mobilising voter registration awareness,” while also urging the ZEC to rope in civic groups and the church.
Chirowodza added: “The Registrar-general and ZEC must synchronise issuance of IDs with voter registration so that as youths acquire new IDs, they automatically register to vote.
“ZEC also has to set up voter registration kiosks outside the RG’s offices.”
Zanu PF has said it targets over five million voters, at least 65% of the voters in the 2023 polls.