BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
While social media is awash with countless hashtags popularising voter registration, human rights’ lawyer Freddy Michael Masarirevu has been “alarmed” by the lack of interest on the ground.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is running a voter registration blitz that began on February 1 and runs till February 28 while the second phase will run from April 11 to 30.
Some civic groups and other stakeholders have flooded social media with messages offering incentives including lunch, T-shirts and transport to lure potential voters, mainly the youth, to take advantage of the blitz to register to vote.
But voter registration apathy continues to mar the exercise, with ZEC chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana recently pleading with potential voters to come in numbers to register to vote as voter registration is free.
All that is needed is a national identity document or valid passport and proof of residence.
“In all the centers that I have gone to in Harare and Chitungwiza, I have not seen anyone registering other than the people I would have brought.
“Its really alarming. I have observed that most youths do not want to be involved in the election process for various reasons,” Masarirevu told The Standard on Friday.
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The country’s youth represent over 60% of the population, and about 44% of the registered voters.
In 2018, over two million, about 43% of the registered electorate were 35 years and below, meaning the youth vote played a decisive role in the poll outcomes.
According to ZEC, a total of 5,695,706 people were registered to vote.
About 2 622 516 were males (46,1%) and 3 073 190 females (53,9%) while youth between 18 and 34 years constituted 43,5% of the total registered voters.
Voter registration is provided for in section 17A of the Electoral Act.
The on-going voter registration blitz was initially scheduled for December last year before it was scrapped off to allow potential voters to obtain much needed identity documents for voter registration.
The Registrar General’s (RGs) is struggling to produce identity documents over lack of consumables.
While lack of identity documents has been cited as one of the reasons for lack of interest to register to vote, Masarirevu said his door to door engagements revealed that the problem ran deeper than lack of IDs.
“There is absolutely no interest, trust me,” he said.
“I went from household to household and no one expressed interest over elections and politics as a subject.
“I could only manage to make them register after intense education, which consumed much of my time.
“There is absolutely lack of awareness, the centres are not known and the dates are not known.
“Others fear political involvement, one youth told me he fears for his family and thinks registration will turn him into a politician.
“Other stakeholders must intensify registration campaigns.
“Youths need to be told that voting is in fact a constitutional right and they have the power to determine their future through the ballot.”
According to Section 67 of the constitution, “every Zimbabwean has the right to vote,” but the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn)notes that there is a low uptake particularly among the youth in exercising this constitutional right.
This is more prevalent in by-elections.
Zesn argued that voter apathy dilutes the value of democracy noting that the trend has been ongoing from as far back as the 1980s as noted in its report on the July 31, 2013 harmonised elections.
While civic groups and other stakeholders are running voter registration awareness campaigns, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF and Nelson Chamisa’s Citizens for Coalition Change (CCC) are ironically targeting millions of voters in the 2023 elections.
The opposition party is eyeing six million voters in its voter-mobilisation campaign.
Zanu PF party has a target to increase the number of its registered voters to five million to ensure a 65% election victory.
Masarirevu has since taken leave from work to continue with voter registration awareness campaigns mainly targeting the youth using his personal resources.
“When I started this, I set aside a reserve for this initiative,” he said.
“I must admit I did not except this huge positive response from the citizens and as such my little reserve is now overwhelmed.
“I must state, however, that there are some citizens, who have joined in mobilising resources and contributing fuel making my “work” a lot more easy.
“It is painful, yes, but such sacrifice is necessary during times like this.
“So with or without resources I remain committed.
“We need to show them (youths) that we care.
“Let’s go where they are; when they feel we are all the same (which is a fact) then they want to participate.
“We all must make this sacrifice.”