Political parties have expressed concern over the low voter registration turnout across Matabeleland in the ongoing Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) mobile voter registration exercise ahead of the 2023 harmonised elections.
The mobile voter registration blitz is being rolled out in two phases – from February 1 to 28 and April 11 to 30.
However, a recent visit to the registration centres dotted around Bulawayo revealed that very few new voters were coming to register with ZEC officers spending much of the time seated instead of registering voters.
Political parties that spoke to CITE this week said they were disturbed by the development and called for concerted efforts in remedying the anomaly.
“The MDC-T is deeply concerned about this voter registration apathy and we believe it will have far-reaching consequences particularly on delimitation exercise,” Thokozani Khupe-led MDC-T spokesperson, Ntando Ndlovu told CITE.
“As a party, we launched a voter registration programme targeting first-time voters. We are assisting eligible voters to get identity cards and register to vote. In some cases, we are assisting potential voters with transport to various voter registration centres to register.”
Ndlovu said through their party structures they were publicising the current voter registration blitz in order to get as many people as possible to register as voters.
“We don’t think that people are not interested in registering to vote however we believe that this problem is caused by a plethora of factors such as the shortage of identity cards which is a major impediment for first-time voters and the distance to mobile registration centres for people based in rural areas,” said Ndlovu.
“The other reason for the low turnout is due to lack of publicity on the exercise. Some residents are ignorant of the ongoing registration exercise.
He implored the government to resource the civil registry in order to empower it to conduct an inclusive exercise of issuing national identity cards to eligible citizens, something which he said would then enable them to register as voters.
“ZEC should establish more mobile registration centres as opposed to restricting itself to schools and halls. Lastly, there must be a joint effort by political parties, churches, residents associations and civic groups in publicizing the ongoing voter registration exercise.”
Msongelwa Ndlovu, ZAPU spokesperson, said the revolutionary party was very much worried about subdued voter registration ahead of the crucial polls.
“The low voter registration is a major concern for us as ZAPU,” he decried.
“This can be attributed to many socio-economic factors including but not limited to: a general feeling among the electorate that elections are a futile exercise which is carried out as a mere ritual as results are always predetermined. The other cause could be the fact that the younger generation of voters see their salvation outside the borders of Zimbabwe so they invest their futures in countries other than Zimbabwe. Both reasons, however, do not justify this apathy.”
He added: “As ZAPU, we are introducing different incentives to the youth to participate in the politics of the country at best or at least use their rights to vote in order to determine their future. These incentives will be unpacked soon after the by-elections as we prepare for the 2023 plebiscite.”
Witness Dube, spokesperson for the Douglas Mwonzora-led faction of the MDC-T blamed voter registration apathy on lack of confidence by citizens in the country’s electoral processes.
“Apathy is caused by lack of confidence in the electoral process,” Dube told CITE.
“We need to engage in electoral reforms as a matter of urgency in order to give the electorate cause to believe that their voices count. Voter registration must be synchronised with the issuance of ID cards so that as a country we have a 100% voter registration of all people turning the age of 18 with the main task being to encourage people to vote.”
He added: “Our candidates are leading the voter registration campaign, with all our structures encouraging the same. It is a rather difficult exercise this time around because of the Covid protocols.”
Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) by-election candidate for the Tsholotsho South Constituency, Tapson Nganunu Sibanda said voter registration is “a disappointment country-wide” adding more should be done to ensure many Zimbabweans register to vote.
ZANU-PF politburo member, Tshinga Dube challenged both ZEC and political parties to educate citizens on the importance of participating in electoral processes.
When Zimbabwe went to the last polls in 2018, a total of 5,695,706 had registered to vote and the three Matabeleland provinces – Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and North – had the least number of registered voters compared to other provinces.