Why do voters shun Polls?

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By Justin Mupundu

Why would elections often be marred with voter apathy? Or why do voters shun polls?

The governing Patriotic Front (PF) scooped 13 out of 14 seats in the recently held Mayoral, Council Chairperson and Ward elections in Eastern, Luapula, Lusaka, Northern ,North-western and Western provinces.

PF’s Miles Sampa scooped Lusaka mayoral polls with 81,860 votes after beating his closest rival, United Party for National Development (UPND)’s Chileshe Kangwa who polled 36,716 votes.PF’s Annie Brown also won the Chilanga Council Chairperson with 6,776 votes against UPND’s George Muleya who polled 4,396 votes.

Both Lusaka and Chilanga Council by-elections were held following the death of Wilson Kalumba and Maria Malila, respectively.

PF’s Milion Tembo won the Chipangali Council election with 7,024 votes against UPND’s William Banda who got 762 votes, and PF’s Chimwemwe Banda scooped the Chasefu Council Chairperson with 6,439 votes against the independent‘s Thokaza Ndhlovu who secured only 2,147 votes. PF’s Saul Zulu also won Kasenengwa Council Chairperson with 5,942 against UPND’s Peter Mwenda who got 1,207 votes. PF’s William Banda scooped Lusanganzi Council Chairperson with 2,380 votes against the independent’s Patrick Banda who got 1,290 votes, and in Chifunabuli, PF’s Innocent Kapwepwe won the Council Chairperson with 10,073 votes against NDC’s Given Chola who got only 2,567 votes.

However, the polls were marred with voter apathy: The voter turnout was about 15 percent or 123,765 voters cast their votes out of Lusaka’s 839,027 registered voters. The voter turnout in the recently held Chilanga parliamentary by-election was about 32 percent.

Generally, by-elections are marred with voter apathy or voters shun the polls for various social and economic reasons. But of great concern, this time around, is the magnitude of voter apathy in the just-ended polls in many parts of the country. The magnitude of apathy has also prompted President Edgar Lungu’s concern as well.

The youth who are so exasperated with Government compounded the magnitude of voter apathy in the recently held by-elections: The vendors, who constitute the youth‘s largest proportion of voters, shunned the polls for allegedly being chased from the streets during the countrywide clean-up operation.

More so, about 56 percent of the 6.7 million eligible voters voted in the August 11, 2016 polls. This voter turnout represents 24 percent increase from 2015 Presidential election’s 32 percent.

But the voter turnout in the 2015 presidential election represents 21 percent declines from the 2011 elections’ 53 percent.

The voter turnout was about 41 percent in 2006 election, and in 2008 Presidential election the voter turnout was a repeat of 2006.

Whilst the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) conducted free fair and transparent polls, voter apathy holds the potential to compromise the credibility and legitimacy of elections.

However, Zambia’s voter turnout is the lowest in the Sub Saharan Africa. For example, South Africa had an impressive 70 percent voter turnout in the 2014 election. Kenya recorded about 89 percent voter turnout in 2016 election. Zimbabwe has also recorded over 70 percent of the voter in the recently held election.

But Zambia has been grappling with voter apathy since 2001, and since then, no probe into the root cause of voter apathy has been conducted.

What then would- be attributable to the unprecedented voter apathy? Or why do voters shun elections?

Growing evidence suggests that the majority voters are poverty –stricken. They live on a hand-to-mouth basis: Struggling each and every day to put food on the table.

These voters spent most of their day-time on income-generating ventures.

This explains why they were not willing to go and exercise their rights to vote: Fully aware that voting is ‘a return home empty-handed venture.’
Many voters claim that they understand their right, obligation, responsibility and duty to vote.

But they feel that elected leaders abuse their rights: use them as ladders to get to the echelon of power.
Voters alleged that leaders give a deaf ear to their cries and a blind eye to their plight once elected.
Here is glimpse of some voters’ responses when asked why they did not vote:

A 32-year old Jeff Mulenga (not real name), a Chef at a Lusaka-based restaurant, says:” I am a registered voter in Kasama, but I find job in Lusaka. I cannot afford to travel to Kasama to vote.”

James Banda (not real name), a 40-year –old unemployed resident of Lusaka’s Kanyama compound where he relocated from Lusaka’s Matero township where he registered as a voter, says: “I had K10 on voting -day. So I cannot use it for transport to Matero.”

A 22-year-old school leaver Chilufya Chitalu (not real name) asked me this question:” Why should I give someone a job (vote) when I do not have one?”

Many people did not vote for various social and economic reasons: Having lost their voters cards, lack of logistical support to enable them go and vote outside their domiciled towns or districts, as a protest against both wrangles that rock political parties prior to election day and empty promises elected leaders make, fear of stress of standing in the queue for a long time before one casts the vote, dissatisfaction with the current electoral system, and most of all lack of short and long term benefits of voting.

All in all, many voters expressed dissatisfaction for having voting rights devout of privileges.

There is need to promote meaningful voter participation in election: Create a voter empowerment programme. The voter’s empowerment programme should be tailored to address voters’ economic constraints:
For example, Government could introduce a deliberate policy to the effect that: Every voter who votes receives US$200 via various mobile money platforms. This translates to about US$1.4 billion as compensations for the 6.7 million registered voters exclusive of operating costs.

Then, voter turnout would increase to over 80 percent, and thus address the voter apathy that threatens the credibility our electoral system. What do you think?

The author is a Lusaka based Media consultant and political analyst

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31