Causes and effects of high voter apathy (By Sycorax Tiyesa Ndhlovu)


The high levels of apathy in elections are indicative of a malaise in the political system. It is imperative that Government and all stakeholders should find lasting solutions to rejuvenate citizens’ direct participation in politics. Democracy by its very nature assumes that an active electorate is a sine qua non  that drives the process.

In her final remarks Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) Chairperson, Justice Ireen Mambilima, said the average voter turnout in the recent presidential by-election was about 33 per cent. In some constituencies, out of about 33, 000 registered voters, one learns that only about 8, 000 registered voters actually voted. Justice Mambilima said this was the lowest voter turnout Zambia has ever experienced for many years.

While a winner in such high voter apathy political elections can celebrate having won a political election, it is clear that such a winner wins with a minority vote. Such a vote doesn’t give a winner confidence that one is a popular political representative in a given area. Such a situation threatens democracy dispensation as democracy promotes majority rule.

And because most elected political leaders win with a minority vote, such leaders feel reluctant to mobilize majority citizens in the area who might not have voted for him or her. As a result, such political leaders fail to organize good governance or community development related meetings in local communities as most of the residents might not be coming to such meetings as they feel that the political representative concerned is not a leader of their choice; and is not popular in the area.

This means that most members of a respective area might not co-operate with such a winner in most governance and development related activities. Therefore, instead of such a political leader facilitating development related projects, he or she might spend more time justifying that he or she is current ward councilor, member of parliament (MP) or a current republican president.

Such a situation erodes democratic dispensation; and retards community and national development processes.

But the major cause of such high voter apathy is that most politicians don’t perform to the expectations of the electorate. After 50 years of political independence, out of about 14million people, only 1million are reported to be  in formal employment; and about 6million people are reported to be earning their living in informal sector. This results into about 60 per cent of the Zambia’s population being in poverty with 80 per cent of the rural population being in abject poverty.

Such sad development figures prove that political representatives have betrayed the electorate. And high voter apathy in political elections are signs that citizens are frustrated with poor performance of each crop of successful political leaders.

What is also clear is that soon after being elected into political offices, despite poor performance to facilitate local community or national development processes, most politicians become richer than they were before they were elected into such political positions. Elected political representatives’ conditions of service are not proportional to their respective performance with the former being more attractive while the latter needs much to be desired. Poor performance of most elected political leaders aggravate high poverty levels which compel most citizens to develop voter apathy.

Therefore, high voter apathy is a vote of no confidence in political representatives as most citizens feel there is little or nothing they benefit from spending time and energy voting for someone who might benefit more from politics while a voter gets poor and poorer every year.

It is against this background that one of the clergymen recently said most political leaders are in politics not to serve the poor; but to serve themselves.

Additionally, most elected political leaders at whatever level of political representation rarely or never go back to their respective areas to consult and work with the electorate on local community or national socio-economic needs and challenges.

Such a situation frustrates electorate; and force them not to participate in the next political elections.

This is why the former president, late Michael Sata urged PF MPs and cabinet ministers to find time to visit their respective constituencies regularly to understand the needs and challenges of the electorate.

Moreover, civil servants presence; and how such workers facilitate community development related issues such as health, education, agriculture, etc in local communities have a bearing on citizens’ participating in political elections. Currently most government ministries such as health, education, agriculture, etc are operating on less than half the staff establishment capacity to provide adequate and high quality services to the public. This means that public service delivery in local communities is low and poor. Such a situation can lead into voter apathy during elections as most citizens might feel rejected and ejected by government.

One can argue why there was high voter apathy in the recent presidential by-election when the PF government has increased and improved socio-economic infrastructure in road network, health and education sectors almost throughout the country. While the PF government has done such a tremendous job, such facilities haven’t started rewarding most citizens with relevant benefits. Moreover, much more needs to be done in job creation, improved agricultural input supply and producer prices paid at the right time, etc for many citizens to appreciate government efforts in alleviating high poverty levels.

Therefore, government should increase the number of civil servants in local communities; and activate high public service delivery in such communities to make community members benefit from socio-economic services from the politicians and government they put into office; and in the process feel that they are part of the government .

High voter apathy can also be attributed to personality and caliber of political candidates in each election. Most political candidates at any level of political representation have some questionable personality; and in most cases, most political candidates demonstrate low understanding of issues affecting majority citizens.

Citizens should endeavour to keep their life records clean in case they aspire for political offices; as questionable personality repel voters in political elections.

In the recent presidential by-elections, most of the presidential candidates failed to articulate issues; and some citizens wondered how such a candidate would facilitate more job creation, high poverty alleviation and improve on the living standards of the majority Zambians. Those who aspire for political offices should market themselves effectively to impress voters; and motivate such voters to participate in voting for a leader who impresses and inspires them during the political campaigns.

Therefore, where some citizens feel that the personality or caliber of political candidates isn’t to their expectations, they just stay away from voting.

Moreover, the high levels of political violence that has characterized our country is another contributing factor to high voter apathy. Zambians are peace loving people. Zambians don’t like fighting; especially where pangas are weapons of political violence.

When some voters feel that they might be hacked by pangas when seen going to vote or after that; they feel insecure; and stay away from voting to safeguard their precious lives. As a result, few courageous people go to vote in such political violence infested environment.

Another contributing factor to high voter apathy is irregular voter registration. Most people migrate from one district to another depending circumstances or looking for fortunes. And asking voters to always go back where they registered as voters can be perceived not only costly but also  a waste of time; especially when the economy is biting hard on such a person.

People are always busy trying to make ends meet. Therefore, voter registration should be continuous to avoid asking citizens to go back where they registered as a voter from. But Justice Mambilima said that ECZ have never been funded to decentralize and facilitate continuous voter registration processes despite a law being put in place in 2004. Therefore, to increase voter participate in elections, government should prioritise funding to ECZ to decentralize and facilitate continuous voter registration processes.

On citizens who might registered as voters but are in the Diaspora; Justice Mambilima said currently, there is no law that allows citizens in Diaspora to vote. With a good number of citizens who might have registered as voters in the Diaspora, a law allowing such citizens to participate in their country’s elections would increase voter participation in elections.

Therefore, while one can blame the unfavourable weather as the cause of high voter apathy in the recent presidential by-election, it is also true that Zambia has been experiencing high voter apathy even in favourable weather conditions where less than 50 per cent of the registered voters turnout for voting.

Increased high voter apathy can erode checks and balances, accountability, rule of law, etc; and lead to bad governance.

And as elaborated above, most of the causes of high voter apathy spring from the politicians we put in political offices themselves.

Therefore, in addition to poor weather, many factors have created high voter apathy to be a cancer in Zambian political elections; thereby threatening democracy and sustainable national development processes.

From such analysis, let’s find lasting solutions to high voter apathy or else the socio-economic malaise might get worse than they are now.


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