Utterances by Kuwadzana East National Assembly representative, Nelson Chamisa, last week have been reported differently in various media on whether he advocated for mandatory voting or automatic registration of voters.
Opinion: Learnmore Zuze
This debate, however, is neither here nor there, but the point is that government is mandated by the Constitution to ensure that it facilitates automatic registration for its citizens, who attain the age of majority.
The call that government should facilitate automatic registration for every citizen above the age of 18 deserves closer scrutiny, coming at a time when elections are beckoning in Zimbabwe.
On the strength of Section 67 (3) this plea is quite in order. Under the section, every Zimbabwean above 18 is supposed to be a voter.
The Zimbabwean election story has been one marked by apathy since the turn of the century. Two crucial elections, at national level, stand out as having recorded massive turn outs in the history of Zimbabwe, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the national elections.
The script has remained the same in the last decade. History records that there was a massive voter turnout in the 1980 election that ushered in a true black government.
It is a given why there were record-setting numbers in the 1980, elections. The second moment where a record breaking number of voters invaded the voting booths was in 2000 when a red-hot united opposition party (MDC), laden with sincere activists challenged Zanu PF hegemony with startling success.
Inroads never seen before were made and, for the first time, Zanu PF could not claim any seat in the urban areas; the people had spoken. The year 2000 carried a semblance of 1980 in that the immense voter participation was a product of people expressing deep disapproval of the governing systems.
In 2000, the MDC wrested 57 of the 120 constituency seats across the country at the time. Two years later, more than one million people voted for MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, a feat that had not been attained by any opposition leader in the past. That Tsvangirai lost in that presidential election is not the focal point, but the marked increase in the number of voters is.
After this great disappointment and the subsequent splits by the opposition, the elections that followed were characterised by shocking dispiritedness.
It was as if to say people no longer cared at all about governance issues. To some Zimbabweans, there is no point in voting because the outcome is guaranteed to be the same. There are many reasons to explain voter apathy, but one sure thing is that there is little to be gained from ignoring the politics of the day.
The plea for compulsory voting has been attacked mainly on the premise that it would result in the curtailment of civil liberties. That it has some air of coercion.
It has been argued that people have a right to an apolitical life style. People, they argue, have a political right not to participate in political activities.
This argument sounds clever and ethical against mandatory voting. It also carries some marks of democracy. It’s true that forcing people into voting is not the democratic thing to do.
At closer scrutiny, however, the call for automatic registration of voters is precisely what the doctor would prescribe for the people of Zimbabwe. If this call should wriggle its way out and see the light of day, it may easily prove to be a milestone towards democratising the country.
Today, in Zimbabwean politics, the mathematics is simple regarding who wins an election, whether at the lowest level or highest level: It is the party that can mobilise people into voting.
It sounds comical if it were not so sad that almost everybody in Zimbabwe is disgruntled with the state of affairs, yet the very corrupt administration presiding over the country’s collapse will win elections with landslide margins.
True, we cannot outrightly rule out the possibility of rigging but a significant factor is that Zanu PF has followers who vote while the opposition has supporters who moan and grumble in public, but never get to vote.
The majority, in fact, are not registered voters. Then there is a group which openly states that they would never vote. A group that says it has no interest in politics at all. It is this group which, in my view, really insults logic.
Most of the people in this group are fairly young people; people who are in university or who have completed university. They will, with a straight face, tell you that they don’t care an inch what happens in politics. But the irony of it all is that these people are clamouring for jobs; they desire a functional economy full of opportunities.
It is sad indeed that they can’t see how politics affects everyone. Everyone in Zimbabwe has been condemned to using the surrogate currency known as bond notes. Everyone is feeling the pinch of the cash crisis.
The entire public has to contend with the vendor menace, poor road infrastructure and a high level of corruption.
These social ills can be traced directly to politics gone wrong. Whether one hates or loves politics, they can’t run away from the fact that it has a direct influence on our lives and the future.
It is in this light that the appeal for automatic registration of voters should be seen. It is the reason why countries who have adopted this position are developed and have better governance. Almost everyone gets to have a say on the next government.
In my view, automatic registration is actually the beginning of proper democracy. It ensures that a government elected is truly representative of the will of the people.
There is no curtailment of people’s rights if we stick to automatic registration as opposed to obligatory voting.
Through this initiative a foundation is set for a government that can be made to account. An administration would result that respects the will of those that put it in power. A few cannot continue deciding for the majority as is currently the case in Zimbabwe. Government has a duty to provide for registration of voters.
Learnmore Zuze is a law officer and writes in his own capacity. E-mail: email@example.com