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Call to combat voter apathy

THE July 26 by-elections in selected parts of the country brought to the fore a number of concerns which need urgent attention. Chief among the concerns was voter apathy.
While the different political parties put in their best in trying to attract the electorate to vote for their respective candidates, voter turn-out remained average to below-average in some areas.
President Edgar Lungu declared a public holiday to allow citizens exercise their civic right in the just-ended by-elections.
The voter apathy displayed by voters in the mayoral and council chairperson elections has been described as worrying by President Lungu who has called on stakeholders to come together and identify the cause of the problem.
The elections for council chairpersons were held in Chasefu, Chifunabuli, Chilanga, Chipangali, Kasenengwa, Lumezi while in Lusaka, the people were voting for the city’s mayor.
The council wards elections happened in six wards, namely Chachacha in Mwense district, Lwambazi in Mpulungu, Kanyama and Kanongesha in Mwinilunga, Kangwena in Mushindamo and Looma in Mongu districts.
The voter turn-out for Chasefu, Chipangali, and Kasenengwa of 21, 16 and 15 percent, respectively, all fell below average. Lumezi had 19 percent, Lusangazi 33 percent and Chifunabuli 35 percent while Chilanga 23 percent.
At ward level, the voter turn-out was somehow impressive compared to the mayoral and council chairperson elections.
Chachacha, Lwambazi, and Kanyama had 51, 44 and 58 percent. Kanongesha 49 percent, Kangwena 40 percent and Looma 49 percent.
Low voter turn-out is a matter of concern because the participation of citizens in an election is a critical measure of the growth of democracy.
However, when people decide not to exercise their right to vote, many are left to wonder what the problem could be.
The Lusaka mayoral elections, for example, witnessed close to 85 percent registered voters staying home despite the day being declared a public holiday.
The winning candidate, Miles Sampa of the PF, got 81,860 votes, which is less than the number of registered voters in one constituency of Lusaka such as Matero (130,408), Mandevu (148,889) and almost at par with Lusaka Central, which has 81,236 registered voters.
His closest rival, Kangwa Chileshe of the UPND, got 36, 716 votes while Mundia Mukobesa of People’s Alliance for Change (PAC) Polled 7, 745 votes.
The voter turn-out in Lusaka was far below the expectation of many.
It is important to note that the preparation and conducting of an election is an expensive undertaking and therefore when Government expends on polls, voters should exercise their civic duty as expected.
A number of reasons of what could have caused the low voter turnout have been advanced, and one of them is violence.
The argument is that the electorate stay away from voting due to fear of violence.
However, the recently held elections were fairly peaceful mostly because the ruling PF and major opposition party UPND signed a memorandum of understanding to uphold peace and reject any form of political violence.
If all political parties abide by the peace agreement, political violence would be a thing of the past in the country.
Another interesting assertion attributed to voter apathy is
voter fatigue. Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) president Reuben Lifuka says the low turnout may be as a result to voter fatigue.
Mr Lifuka notes that in the past 20 years, the country has held numerous by-elections due to one reason or the other, and this could fatigue the voters.
“Given that we do not have a mandatory voting regime, the voter turnout is based on personal motivation and it is evident that the majority of registered voters do not feel motivated to exercise this right,” Mr Lifuka said.
University of Zambia political science lecturer Alex Ng’oma says the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ)’s lack of intensive and continuous voter awareness campaigns could be the cause of the poor voter turn-out.
He appealed to the commission to revisit its strategy for voter sensitisation and ensure that it becomes a continuous process.
Dr Ng’oma called on Government to increase its support to the ECZ to allow for continuous voter registration as opposed to relying on an outdated voter register. This would automatically pave way for the continuous sensitisation of potential voters.
On the other hand, political parties are also expected to invest in educating their own supporters on the importance of voting.
Further, Dr Ng’oma said civil society has a critical role to play in sensitising the general public and advocating further policy and legal reforms which will help restore public confidence in the electoral system.
“Civil society organisations should create awareness in society on the people’s civic duties, which are critical to enhance democracy,” he said.
Going forward, all stakeholders should come on board and woo voters to exercise their right to vote to avoid a repeat of the voter apathy demonstrated in the July 26 by-elections.