THERE is rising concern over voter apathy as evidenced by the decreasing voter turnout in by-elections held since the July 2018 harmonised elections.
Whereas Section 67 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that “every Zimbabwean has the right to vote,” there seems to be fewer uptake on exercising this constitutional right to elect leaders by eligible voters in Zimbabwe during by-elections.
Voter apathy dilutes the value of democracy and the trend has been ongoing from as far back as the 1980s as noted in the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) report on the July 31, 2013 harmonised elections.
There continues to be a marked decrease in the numbers of voters that participate in by-elections. Conceivably, the 2018 harmonised elections recorded a high voter turnout of 85 percent mainly due to the comprehensive and up-to-date biometric voters’ roll.
Furthermore, there was increased party mobilisation, sustained campaigning, and concentrated media spotlight on the harmonised elections not only from the local but from the regional and international media.
Zesn has observed vote buying by political parties to influence the voting patterns in their favour.
This is done through provision of food aid in the form of rice and maize, sometimes cooking oil or maize-meal and efforts to improve water and sanitation through the drilling of boreholes and installation of water tanks. But still people do not go out to vote.
Our observations reveal that voter apathy marred the Chimanimani East ward 13 local authority by-election, with only 20 percent of the
5 011 registered voters taking part in the poll.
The same scenario was observed during the Chegutu East, Kadoma ward 2, Nkayi ward 22, and Bubi ward 23 local authority elections.
The situation is not only peculiar to local authority by-elections; the same applies to National Assembly by-elections. For example; voter turnout significantly decreased in the Mutoko North National Assembly by-election in October 2018.
More recently, out of a voter population of more than 20 000, only 25 percent turned out to vote in the Glen View South National Assembly by-election held in September 2019.
This is a clear indication that voting trends in the country are always at their peak during the harmonised elections, hence the need for electoral stakeholders to continue supporting voter education efforts on the need to participate in by-elections.
During the run-up to the Glen View South by-election, Zesn civic and voter education officers were snubbed by some of the electorate saying: “Do not give us fliers to read, put food on our tables, after all elections are not addressing bread and butter issues and so why should we go and vote?”
Zesn is of the view that in the process of addressing political and electoral reforms, perhaps the government should tackle socio-economic reforms which are key to electoral and governance participation by citizens.
Chipfunde-Vava is Zesn director.