By Sycorax Ndhlovu
To know which topic I should write for this Monday, I was busy reading all sorts of newspapers. I also looked at some notes from some personal and telephone interviews I noted down from some people nationwide. Then, I remembered that some text messages from various people in some regions were also waiting for considerations on my Airtel and MTN mobile phone handsets. Thanks to all those who share with me such information.
Suddenly, my Airtel phone rang. Answering the phone, the caller said: ‘I am Luchembe in Lusaka.’ I thanked him for calling me. ‘I always read your articles; and I have just finished reading today’s (last Monday’s) article in Daily Nation;’ he continued.
‘Why can’t we conduct a research to find out why there was high voter apathy in some regions of the country while some provinces recorded high voter turnout?’ he asked.
In surprise, I opened my mouth and my eyes widely because the article was talking about kicking out high voter apathy; and then Mr Luchembe was talking about high voter apathy is some regions while the other regions registered high voter turnout.
Later I consoled myself because I realised that Mr Luchembe was more critical in analyzing voter turnout in the August 11, 2016 polls than I was in the stated article.
I thanked him for reading my articles in Daily Nation every Sunday and every Monday. I also thanked him for the suggestion to investigate why some regions record high voter turnout while others didn’t in the same general election.
Additionally, using my humble knowledge mixed with what some Daily Nation’s readers tell me, I said the research might review many other factors; including that a remarkable number of voter’s cards in some regions where some political parties have their strongholds were exchanged for cash.
Then, tactfully, my caller seemed to have looked at the whole voter turnout from a broad angle. While one appreciates that Zambian voters turnout in large numbers on August 11, 2016 general elections, the response wasn’t as high as someone might dramatise it.
To prove this, the total number of registered voters on Electoral Commission of Zambia(ECZ)’s national register was 6, 698, 672. Of this number, national voter turnout percent was only 57. Voter turnout was slightly above half of total number of registered voters nationwide!
While comparing with the last elections this was a high voter turnout, it’s still a low voter turnout when one considers the total number of registered voters.
Consequently, justifying his razor-sharp observations, Mr Luchembe tactfully said that some political and governance stakeholders didn’t do their civic education effectively in most parts of the country. In this argument, he singled out how some political parties’ and some civil society organizations(CSOs)’ members conduct their political campaigns and civic education. He observed that most of such political campaign teams and civic educators concentrate their activities along the line of rail and in some areas close to main roads and towns; adding that such civic education facilitators rarely go deeper in remote areas where more civic education is needed.
Mr Luchembe agreed with my views that some voters in some regions exchanged their voter’s cards for cash because such citizens don’t know how powerful a voter’s card is in helping one choose a political candidate of one’s choice.
With such a telephone conversation with a Mr Luchembe, I started wondering whether I was accurate to state that Zambians kicked out high voter apathy in the August 11, 2016 polls as stated in last Monday’s (15/8/2016) article.
I discovered that, to some extent I was right; but not accurate because I didn’t go further to reveal other details of the extent of the voter turnout. I had planned to reveal such details later in my Monday’s articles, God willing.
Reflecting on the angle which Mr Luchembe got, I felt it was necessary to connect last Monday’s and today’s articles with his observations.
Firstly, why it was stated that Zambians kicked out high voter apathy in the August 11, 2016 polls was because in the past general elections, voter turnout has often and consecutively been less than 40 per cent of the total registered voters in most constituencies. In most constituencies, voter turnout percentages were in the range of 24-28 per cent.
Reflecting on voter turnout percentages in most parts of Southern, Western and North-western provinces; especially in the January 20, 2015 presidential by-elections, one discovers that voter turnout percentages in the stated regions was 30-35 per cent.
But in the August 11, 2016 general elections, in other regions, voter turnout rose from the stated range to between 52 and 58. In Southern, Western and North-western provinces’ constituencies, voter turnout rose from 30-35 per cent to 60-75 per cent.
Considering voter turnout in the past and that of August 11, 2016 polls’, one can discover that in the recent past elections, there was a remarkable improvement in voter turnout.
However, this improvement was again far below expectation because, apart from the three stated regions, the remaining regions were slightly above half of the total number of registered voters in most constituencies. Therefore, although it was impressive, it was low voter turnout!
The low voter turnout in some regions was because some voters were unable to vote because, for some reasons, some voters exchanged their voter’s cards for cash!
It’s reported that in Lusaka township, for instance, a group of ten (10) registered voters who were willing to exchange their voter’s cards with some cash were given K1, 500 to share. And those who were willing to do so were given the same money; and they shared!
In some rural parts of the country, it’s reported that voter’s cards were exchanged for K50 while in other parts such cards were exchanged for a K100.
To motivate potential voters to turnout in large numbers, some political parties offered free transport from any point in any province to the polling station; even to another province where such voters registered as voters.
Additionally, some political parties gave each voter who turned up for voting with assurance that the person voted for that political party’s candidates a token of appreciation.
Demonstrating that a certain political party would be generous if voted into government, some political parties offered free mealie meal bags to many households in specific regions. This also motivated many voters to turn up in large numbers to cast their votes on candidates of such political parties.
Moreover, some regions registered as voters those who were perceived to turn 18 years of age on August 11, 2016 while many regions weren’t advised to do so. Such electoral related arrangements advantaged some political parties while disadvantaging others; especially where strongholds were concerned.
If all such stories are true, it means all such perceived or real electoral related malpractices were happening while each one of us had both pairs of eyes and ears wide open. In short, we were looking at things without seeing what was actually happening. We were hearing about such things without listening. And we were reading about such things in our midst without understanding what was actually being communicated to us. This proves that most Zambians need to improve on their seeing, listening and reading comprehension skills if democracy through genuine voter turnout is to be achieved.
From such hodge-podge factors to voters’ turnout in the August 11, 2016 polls, one can induce that while other political parties were saying: ‘In God we trust;’ others were saying: ‘By all means; and at all costs; we have to win; and make our presidential candidate go in State House after August 11, 2016 polls.’
But could most potential voters have turned out in large numbers in all regions if some voter’s cards weren’t exchanged for some cash? Could most voters have turned out in large numbers if they weren’t given free mealie meal and free transport to and from polling stations? Could many potential voters have turned out in large numbers in some regions if they weren’t promised a token of appreciation in monetary terms after voting?
Is it that some voters who turned out to vote were just patriotic to Mother Zambia by exercising their right to vote? Or is it that they just wanted their preferred political candidates to win in such elections?
Democracy flourished where there is rule of the law. When some political parties gain more votes through malpractices through buying voter’s cards in other political party’s strongholds; and giving such cards to their own supporters to vote in their stronghold areas might not be part of democratic electoral process.
Therefore, political parties, faith-based organizations (FBOs) and other governance related organisations have a lot to do to improve on civic education knowledge levels.
Individual citizens, ECZ and law enforcement officers also have a lot to do in terms of protecting their own rights, those of others and ensuring effective electoral law enforcement respectively. Such duties are critical not only because they are part of our civic and political rights but also because they are part of ensuring that electoral laws and processes are respected.
As Mr Luchembe noted, we need to conduct a research on such issues and many related ones to know what is actually causing all such sad developments against our young democratic dispensation in Mother Zambia.
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