By-elections marred by voter aparthy

Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga
Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga casting his vote 26 March 20222 by elections

THE just-ended by-elections were marred by voter apathy, with only 35% of eligible voters casting their ballots, statistics released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) have revealed.

The by-elections were held on Saturday to fill 28 National Assembly and 122 local authority seats that were triggered by deaths, diplomatic postings and recalls.

Opposition political parties attributed the poor turnout to government’s lack of political will to implement electoral reforms to guarantee free and fair polls.

Opposition Citizens Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa told journalists on Monday that citizens felt that they had little to gain by participating in the by-elections.

National Constitutional Assembly leader Lovemore Madhuku said citizens were mostly concerned with making decisions that influenced change of the government that governed them as opposed to participating in by-elections.

“In an election where the results will not influence change of the government, there will be low voter turnout. Citizens are passive in the electoral process. They are active participants who know that a by-election held a few months before the general elections was not necessary. They know that the by-election won’t do much to address their problems. We will still have the same economic hardships in 2023, but people will come in their numbers to vote because they know that their vote is key in deciding the top leadership that can transform their lives. The more people realise that the polls are not changing anything, the less they turn out to vote,” Madhuku said.

Political analysts said the low voter turnout was partly caused by the harsh socio-economic and political environment in the country.

Vivid Gwede, a political analyst said:  “Urbanites do not seem to think that MPs matter that much and they also think the results are obvious as they have been for over a decade.  But there are also competing commitments such as working for livelihoods in a struggling economy which makes spending time in voting queues seem unproductive, while by-elections generally have low stakes since they do not involve Presidential elections.  By-elections generally have very low stakes because they do not include the Presidential election and do not include all constituencies; hence the interest they command is limited.”

Political analyst Effie Ncube predicted a higher voter turnout in the 2023 general elections than in the March 26 by-election.

“The suffering in the country is getting worse each day, which will force people to turn out in large numbers to vote and change the direction that the country has taken since 1980.  The reason people turn out in large numbers in general elections compared to the by-elections is that the by-elections are localised and they are not about the bigger change that people will be looking for.  They are about local councillors and MPs.  People know that the change they want comes from the top and during general elections they can make broader decisions,” Ncube said.

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