Poor voter registration raises questions over virgin voters’

Chris Mahove

Efforts by the country’s two main political parties to lure virgin voters for next year’s watershed elections might have hit a snag after it turned out that just slightly above 10 percent of them managed to register in the just ended registration blitz by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

The two voter registration blitz carried out by the electoral body managed to register just over 150 000 new voters out of an estimated 3 million eligible virgin voters.

The latest blitz, in which ZEC had targeted 1 million new registrants, only managed a paltry 100 000, which translates to just 10 per cent of the projected figure.

Independent statistics show that the country has around 3 million unregistered citizens, with an estimated 2 million of them being youths who attained voting age between the last elections in 2018 and now.

This means that less than 20 percent of the targeted virgin voters will participate in next year’s general elections should the registration exercise not be extended.

 The poor voter registration turn out has left questions over the participation of virgin voters in the 2023 elections.

The ruling ZANU PF said it was targeting  to increase the number of its registered voters to five million to ensure a 65 percent victory in the 2023 elections while the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) said it was targeting 6 million voters, mainly youth virgin voters who would be voting for the first time.

Registration and Compliance Officer at the Zimbabwe Youth Council, Juliana Kariri told Review & Mail said there were many factors that contributed to the low turnout in voter registration and voting.

“Failure to vote can be attributed to apathy, ignorance and lack of requisite documents. ZEC and the Registrar however tried to engage the youth. We have seen them decentralising their operations and engaging youth groups in an effort to lure their counterparts. However, there is still need to disseminate information or devise other strategies that speak specifically to youths,” she said.

In order to win the hearts of the youths, she said, there was need for need for more voter education in digital spaces where young people were found.

She said most youths viewed politics as a dirty game for older generations without realising that their non-participation made it difficult for their voices to be heard on national issues that affected them.

Kariri bemoaned the worrying cases of drug abuse among the youths, which she said was also a contributing factor to their non-participation in national processes.

“It is also sad that most youths have fallen victim to drug and substance abuse leaving them as zombies who cannot be counted as productive citizens,” she said.

Political Analyst, Methuseli Moyo said the poor voter registration turn out meant there was no real net gain in voters’ numbers considering that a number of them had died since the last election, adding it was difficult to tell to whose advantage the apathy was.

“So we are back to where we were in 2018 figures. Those figures show people’s lack of faith or interest in politics. Whoever manages to convince their supporters to the polling station will win. ZANU PF has the structures and infrastructure to do it. CCC is using relics or remnants of the MDC (so) they will struggle again,” he said.

Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu said there was generally a challenge with voter registration with the main issue being a crisis of ID documents, especially for youth.

“There is also a perception that the state and ZEC are seeking to suppress the youth vote by not availing ID’s. The implication is that a sizeable population size will be left out of governance processes,” he said.

Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) Director of Elections, Charles Madhihwa said the poor turnout appeared to be a result of lack of civic education within the masses of Zimbabwe to understand the importance of voting.

He said ZEC, which has a constitutional mandate to educate prospective voters, failed to effectively carry out the task, adding that CSO’s who had the capacity to do it were discouraged by electoral body.

“On the flip side Zimbabweans are fatigued and no longer believe that voting will bring change as we continue to have disputed elections each time. Disputed elections are diminishing voting appetite among citizens,” he said.

Madhihwa said the informalised economy did not provide any incentive for hustlers to spare a few hours to consider electoral processes, adding this effectively saw the under-registration of urban areas, which he claimed created a scenario favoured by ZEC.

“ZEC had given itself a target of registering one million new voters in these blitz but if my maths is correct, 100 000 is just 10 % of their target and if ZEC was an honest institution with these figures it should have sleepless nights and do self-introspection.

“I have realised there is a method in ZEC’s madness; first blitz was conducted in the peak of the rain season when people were busy in their fields and the weather definitely discouraged even urbanites to go out and register as citizens feel there is no incentive to brave the harsh weather for that. ZEC knew the state of the roads and what it meant to have such a programme during the rainy season. Can this be poor planning or planning to deliberately fail?” he said

He said despite the fact that most youths did not have ID’s, ZEC had chosen to run their blitz ahead of the ID blitz.

“We sked them why not discuss with RG’s office and have a one stop shop to give ID’s and register at the same time but for obvious reasons the ZEC ignored and ran a shortened blitz deliberately mismatched with the ID’s blitz to disenfranchise these youths and this cannot be a strategy for an institution that needs to achieve its set goals,” he said.

A young worker with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Trymore Musipa said the low voter registration meant that political parties had a lot do if they are to turn the fortunes in their favour.

Both the ruling ZANU PF and the opposition CCC have said that they are targeting 5 million votes each for the 2023 elections.

“It takes a lot to convince one to migrate from political party A to political party B. What it simply means is that political parties have a lot to do if they are to turn fortunes. We cannot expect much difference from what we have seen in the previous polls if both the main parties continue believing in their propaganda,” he said.

He said the electorate should not expect much from the 2023 elections except for the ‘new episodes of political drama’.

ZEC however, said the latest registration blitz had been successful as it had coincided with the issuance of identity documents to enable people to register to vote.

The electoral body said it had also processed more than 50 000 voter transfers during the exercise which ran from April 11 to April 30, adding that some CSO’s had caused double registration as they embarked on their own mobilisation exercise.

A total of 5,695,706 voters were registered for the 2018 elections, with the three Matabeleland provinces of Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North having the least number of registered voters compared to other provinces.

This was 78,8 % of the total eligible voters and the voter turn-out was 75%, an improvement.

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