The suspension of by-elections and electoral activities in a bid to curb Covid-19 has contributed to the voter apathy that currently grips the Zimbabwean political environment. Innovative ways are needed to target women and young people in particular to engage the populace to participate in electoral and political processes.
Zimbabwe risks higher voter apathy and further exclusion of young people and women from comprehensively participating in electoral processes and occupying significant political positions come the 2023 harmonised elections, due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the suspension of elections. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has significantly scaled-down civic and voter education since the lockdown of March 2020 which threatens to have long-term effects on political and electoral participation if innovative ways of engagement are not devised.
Although not explicitly mandated by the Constitution and the Electoral Act, civil society has become the main agent of voter education, owing to the absence of significant ZEC interest in carrying out the task to conduct voter education periodically. Even so, their capacity and outreach is limited, due to the limited resources that are availed to the Electoral Commission. Lockdowns and curfews brought about by COVID-19 have constricted efforts to disseminate election-related information.
The uninspired attitude of young people, who make up 60% of the population, towards participation in political and electoral processes requires extensive cross-country, face-to-face engagements coupled by innovative ways to keep them engaged.
Suspension of face-to-face civic and voter education activities in a bid to curb Covid-19 will, in the long term, perpetuate disinformation and political apathy. Inaccurate information shared on digital platforms tend to erode trust in political and electoral processes. In addition, newly adopted ways of information dissemination, such as virtual meetings or workshops and the use of digital platforms, take it for granted that the rural young population has access to the technology.
Women also lag behind in political representation. Although they registered in large numbers, comprising 54% registered in 2018, compared to men, this has not translated into women contesting elections and having strong representation in Parliament and Local Authorities.
Therefore, as decisions are made about COVID-19 and elections, consideration should be given to the need for extensive civic engagements to equip all demographics in Zimbabwe, particularly young people and women, with information on their electoral and political rights and how to exercise them.
The lack of face-to-face engagement will not only see voting statistics worsen in 2023 but will probably also exclude certain demographics from outreach programmes. Virtual meetings and workshops may exclude rural communities which do not have the required technology and those who cannot afford data.
The pandemic presents an opportunity for electoral stakeholders in Zimbabwe to be innovative in the interest of turning the tide against voter apathy and declining political participation among women and young people.
In an attempt to overcome this, the ERC has taken strides towards engaging the public in an innovative way by providing a shuttle service that will take potential registrants to and from registration centres. Citizens simply have to call the ERC toll free 08080219 and request to be ferried by the shuttle service.
Source: Election Resource Centre