With Just over two weeks before Zimbabwe’s make or break 2018 elections, the political temperature is rising in the country as the nation prepares for this historic poll.
What’s clear to all and sundry is that the presidential election is a two-horse race between ZANU-PF leader President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.
What is also clear is that on paper this election should be determined largely by the youth and women voters as these two demographic groups combined undoubtedly constitute the majority of the voters.
However, it is not a given that these two groups will adequately pitch up to the party, primarily because of voter apathy at election time, which is increasingly being registered in the SADC region and in Africa at large- particularly so among youthful voters.
In this article I will attempt to unpack the causes of youth voter apathy in the region and attempt to address how youth voter apathy will impact Zimbabwe’s 2018 harmonized election.
Causes of Youth Voter Apathy
Studies in different parts of Southern Africa have shown that there are various reasons for youth apathy, and some of these can be listed as follows.
- Unemployment. Unemployment plays a major role in voter apathy because someone who is informally employed or who does “self-job” in the Zimbabwean context arguably cannot afford the time to stop selling and go to vote, particularly so when our election is being conducted on the last day of the month when rent is due and other bills need to be paid.
- Corruption. Corruption plays a part in youth voter apathy at election-time because the perception of corruption in the day-to-day lives of young voters make them feel disoriented and disconcerted with respect to politics, governance and leadership and ultimately this results in them being disinterested in politics.Corruption creates an impression among youths that politics only benefits politicians and their self enrichment agendas, and ultimately they refrain from voting as they feel they gain nothing from politics and voting.
- Poor infrastructure. Poor infrastructure is a cause of apathy particularly in areas where there is little or poor development and key infrastructure like roads, piped water and electricity because voting becomes a secondary priority to day to day chores and tasks particularly among women and youth.
- Poor education. In order to be politically conscious and active an individual must have a significant appreciation and understanding of politically centered issues. Where individuals lack adequate education and consequently the capacity to reason, then apathy is likely to be higher.
Now while it is true that the in Africa the predominance of the population is youthful, recent elections in various countries across the continent show that it’s not a given that young voters will pitch up on Election Day.
The issue of voter apathy among youthful voters has been registered in Botswana, where election observers noted that “increasing reluctance among youth to participate in politics and exercise the right to vote is particularly alarming and amounts to a weakening of democracy.”
Furthermore, observer reports highlight that in 1999, 51.42% of the youth in Botswana registered for elections, 55.67% registered 2004, whilst 56.30% of youth registered for the 2009 general. This means that around 45% of youthful voters in Botswana were apathetic in 1999.
Also, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission noted that “the youth participation was not as expected” in Botswana’s 2014 election.
Notably, in Malawi’s 2014 presidential, parliamentary and local elections, a total voter turnout of 70% was registered, and this figure was applauded as one of the highest voter turnouts in that country’s history.
Nevertheless, it should be observed that the 30% of voters that did not pitch up to polling stations and decided to be apathetic could have potentially swayed the result of that election had they actually voted.
Even in Kenya’s recent electoral run-off, high levels of voter apathy particularly among youthful voters were registered.
Zimbabwe faces a similar problem of apathy at election time.
If we look at the 2013 election for instance, close to 5.9 million voters registered to vote in that election, but only 60% of registered voters turned out on Election Day.
Now, with Zimbabwe’s 2018 election around the corner, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has noted that about 5.6 million people have registered to vote, and while the predominance of voters in this election will be the youth.
However, given regional trends of youth voter apathy, it remains to be seen whether the Zimbabwean youth vote will pitch up to the party en bloc on 30 July.
In my view this is doubtful, particularly because the continuous allegations being put forward by the opposition MDC-Alliance only serve to discourage the constituency that would potentially vote on their behalf.
At a time when parties should be rigorously engaging in voter education and encouraging their supporters to go out to vote in their numbers, the incessant allegations and accusations of vote rigging and manipulation that are being made by opposition politicians will prove to be counter-productive on Election Day.
This is because first-time youthful voters are unlikely to go and vote if they feel that their input will not make a meaningful difference.
There in this light, the there is likely to be a considerable amount of youth-voter-apathy come July 30.
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