Harare | The forthcoming by-elections set for December 9 could be affected by voter apathy as cases of violence and intimidation continue to rise, electoral watchdogs have warned.
The violence associated with the campaigns ahead of by-elections have already claimed one life after Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) activist Tapfumaneyi Masaya was allegedly abducted and killed while campaigning in the Mabvuku-Tafara constituency.
The spectre of political violence has also cast a shadow over Zimbabwe’s electoral landscape, with past elections being marred by incidents of intimidation, harassment and even murder.
According to electoral watchdogs, the violence has instilled fear and disillusionment among Zimbabweans leading to growing disinterest in participating in the democratic process.
Zimbabwe Election Advocacy Trust executive director Ignatious Sadziwa said violence and intimidation were likely to push people away from participating in the elections.
“Naturally, by-elections are marred by voter apathy owing to low hype and euphoria characterising them. This is further compounded by Zanu PF’s hegemony anchored on violence and intimidation as witnessed by recent violent orgies in Gutu West by-elections and Mabvuku election campaign. Unfair and illegal recalls can also deter and fatigue potential voters,” Sadziwa said.
Election Resource Centre legal and advocacy officer Takunda Tsunga said voter apathy was likely to be caused by State institutions’ failure to conduct free and fair elections.
“Generally, by-elections suffer lower voter turnout than general elections. However, turnout levels have in recent times been negatively impacted by violence and intimidation.
“The failure by State institutions to hold perpetrators to account puts a dark stain on free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.
“At a time when institutions such as Sadc have raised concerns about the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe, you would think the sensible approach would be to address such concerns which include violence. However, we note that it’s worsening,” Tsunga said.
In a statement recently, Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) noted with concern the low turnout in the recent by-elections, with an average of 35%.
“The low turnout clearly indicates that voters have less interest in local authority by-elections. Zesn observers noted that across the five polling stations in Kusile RDC [rural district council] ward 13, voter turnout stood at 32%,” it said.
“Across all the polling stations where Zesn had observers in Hurungwe RDC, voter turnout stood at between 25% and 30% as at midday. In Nkayi RDC ward 11, voter turnout stood at 40% after 578 out of 1 452 registered voters voted.”
The recently-held by-election in Gutu West had the highest number of people who turned up to vote, with an average of 60%.
Zesn called on political parties to promote voter education and awareness of local government elections to boost participation in electoral processes.
“Political parties should make efforts to increase the political literacy of their supporters so as to raise the level of interest in local authority elections,” the organisation said.
Zanu PF has already invited its controversial affiliate, Forever Associates Zimbabwe, to co-ordinate its campaign activities ahead of the by-elections scheduled for December 9.
The by-elections were triggered by the recall of 15 CCC legislators and 17 councillors by self-proclaimed interim party secretary-general Sengezo Tshabangu.
Tshabangu also recalled 13 more legislators from the National Assembly and five senators, with Parliament indicating that it had informed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of the latest recalls.
However, the High Court had last Tuesday ruled stopping further recalls.
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