Voter apathy consumes city ballot

VOTER apathy was widespread during the council chairman and ward by-election in Chipangali, Eastern Province. PICTURE: DARLINGTON MWENDABAI

IT IS slightly after 10:00hours in the morning at Chilenje South School, one of the polling stations in Lusaka for the mayoral poll.Apart from the electoral officers and the police personnel stationed at the school, the environment is unusually quiet and uneventful for a polling station on an election day.
This is despite President Edgar Lungu declaring July 26 as a holiday to enable people turn out in numbers to vote.
With the extensive campaigns that the nine mayoral candidates had engaged in, one would have expected long queues of people anxiously waiting to cast their votes, but alas, voters seemed uninterested in exercising their civil duty to choose a mayor for the city.
Some people, however, say they did not understand that there was need for them to vote for a mayor. They thought it is the duty of the ward councillors to elect a mayor.
The situation was not different at Tick School as the place was equally without queues by noon except for the officers from the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the Zambia Police Service.
People around the area seemed to be going about their business as if it was not an election day.
The same can be said about Chilenje Community Hall, University of Zambia (UNZA), Emmasdale B and Main Post Office polling stations.
Misheck Phiri, a trader of Libala, who appreciated that the day had been declared a public holiday said he needed to take advantage and open his shop in order to make more money.
Mr Phiri said besides the campaigns that individual candidates carried out, he had no idea he needed to vote.
Mr Phiri, who was in the company of friends, said the new mayor should upgrade the city of Lusaka.
Evelyn Shawa of Libala South, who equally did not vote, said people feel lazy to go and vote unless during the general election.
Ms Shawa said what would have been better was if the day was not set as a holiday so that people could be given a window period by their employers to vote then report back to the office.
Charles Kaluba, a Kanyama resident who was busy at his shop at Soweto market, said he was not aware that people needed to vote for a mayor.
Mr Kaluba was of the view that ward councillors voted for the mayor among themselves.
“But how are we supposed to know that we are expected to vote? Yes, we saw people campaigning but as to how we were expected to participate in the election I cannot say I knew. Anyway, it is too late now,” Mr Kaluba said.
In the amended 2016 Constitution, the mayor or council chairman is elected under the first-past-the- post system in a particular district.
Forum for Democratic Process (FODEP) executive director Chimfwembe Mwenge attributed the low voter turnout to lack of proper preparation for the election by the electoral body, ECZ.
Mr Mwenge has since called on Government to increase funding to activities such as voter registration and voter education.
He said a lot of young people are turning 18 and they need to be registered as voters.
Mr Mwenge also called on ECZ to extend their sensitisation campaign to social media to ensure that they capture a lot of potential voters.
Anti-Voter Apathy (AVAP) executive director Richwell Mulwani said voter apathy is not a good indicator for a growing democracy like Zambia.
Mr Mulwani said out of the 839,027 registered voters, only 133,392 cast their votes indicating 15 percent turnout and 1,460 were rejected.
“This is not a good sign for a country like Zambia that wants to improve its democracy. There is need to change people’s perception towards elections. People are afraid of violence, rigging, and other vices that are believed to characterise elections in Zambia,” Mr Mulwani said.
Young African Leaders Initiatives (YALI) president Andrew Nthewewe regretted the low voter turnout saying that Zambians do not seem to take their right to vote serious.
He said the country’s freedom fighters lost their lives to ensure that people have the right to vote and that it should not therefore be taken for granted.
Mr Nthewewe attributed the low voter turnout to lack of voter sensitisation by ECZ.
“There wasn’t much voter education. That is one of the challenges that we noted. But there can be other reasons as well such as loss of voter’s card, among others. But whatever the case, this situation needs to be addressed,” he said.
He said Government needs to make the voter registration exercise a continuous process to allow those who attain the age of 18 annually to participate in polls.
But ECZ public relations manager Margarete Chimanse said the commission did conduct voter sensitisation campaigns.
Ms Chimanse, however, said political parties should also join the sensitisation campaigns to educate the electorate.
“We have also noted with regret the voter apathy that characterised the mayoral by-election. But as ECZ, we advertised on various platforms including Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), QTV and other media institutions. Next time, we will engage political parties as well,” she said.
Ms Chimanse, however, said there was no allocation for continuous voter registration in the treasury.
She said the commission is currently engaging the treasury to increase the allocation of resources towards the exercise.
The Lusaka mayoral seat fell vacant following the death of Wilson Kalumba earlier this year. Mr Kalumba (Patriotic Front – PF) was voted into office in the August 11, 2016 election.
The nine mayoral candidates who participated in the election, which saw PF’s Miles Sampa emerge winner, include Saboi Imboela (National Democratic Congress), Lesley Chikuse (Republic Progressive Party), Saviour Chishimba (United Progressive Party).
Others are Kangwa Chileshe (United Party for National Development), Alfred Banda (UNIP), Madalitso Musukwa (United Prosperous and Peaceful Zambia), Mundia Mukubesa (People’s Alliance for Change), and Dennis Bwalya (National Restoration Party).

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