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HomeElections 2023First-time Voters: A Key Factor In Zimbabwe’s 2023 Elections

First-time Voters: A Key Factor In Zimbabwe’s 2023 Elections

Young people queuing to register to vote in Harare (Lovejoy Mutongwiza/263Chat)

Zimbabwe is heading to the polls on 23 August 2023 to elect a president, members of parliament and local councillors.

The elections are expected to be highly contested, as the country faces a myriad of challenges, including a crippling economic crisis, rampant corruption and human rights violations.

Among the voters who will have a say in the outcome of the elections are the first-time voters, who are mostly young people aged between 18 and 24. According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), over 6 million voters have registered for the elections, and about 10% of them are first-time voters.

These young voters have shown a keen interest in participating in the electoral process, despite some of the hurdles they faced during the voter registration exercise, such as technical glitches, violence and poor service at some registration centres.

ZEC has since apologized for depriving thousands of prospective first-time voters of an opportunity to register and promised to improve its service delivery.

But what are the issues that matter to these first-time voters? And how will they influence the outcome of the elections?

High expectations

Many first-time voters have high expectations of the next government, especially in terms of addressing the socioeconomic challenges that have plagued Zimbabwe for decades. Some of the issues that they want to see tackled include:

Infrastructure development: Many young voters want to see improved public services, such as roads, water, electricity, health and education facilities. They also want to see more investment in digital infrastructure, such as internet access and mobile networks.

Job creation: Zimbabwe has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, estimated at over 90%. Many young people who have completed their education struggle to find decent jobs or start their own businesses. They want the next government to create more opportunities for youth employment and entrepreneurship.

Corruption: Zimbabwe ranks low on the corruption index released by Transparency International, indicating high levels of graft and abuse of power in public office. Many young voters are fed up with the culture of impunity and want to see more accountability and transparency from their leaders.

Human rights: Zimbabwe has a history of human rights violations, especially during election periods. Many young voters have witnessed or experienced violence, intimidation, harassment and repression from state security agents and ruling party supporters. They want the next government to respect their rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression, assembly and association.

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A new voting bloc

The first-time voters represent a new voting bloc that could potentially change the political landscape in Zimbabwe. They are more likely to be urban-based, educated, tech-savvy and independent-minded than their older counterparts. They are also more likely to be influenced by social media, civil society and alternative sources of information than by state media or traditional leaders.

However, they also face some challenges that could limit their impact on the elections. Some of these include:

Voter apathy: Some young voters may feel disillusioned or disinterested in politics, due to their lack of trust in the electoral system or their perception that their vote will not make a difference. They may also feel alienated or ignored by the political parties, who may not address their issues or engage them effectively.

Low turnout: Some young voters may not turn out to vote on election day, due to various factors, such as lack of voter education, transport challenges, long queues or fear of violence. They may also be discouraged by the government’s refusal to allow Zimbabweans living abroad to vote, which affects many young people who have left the country in search of better opportunities.

Manipulation: Some young voters may be susceptible to manipulation by political parties or candidates, who may use various tactics to sway their vote, such as bribery, coercion, propaganda or false promises. They may also be influenced by peer pressure or family ties.

A decisive role

First-time voters could play a decisive role in determining the outcome of the elections, depending on how they exercise their right to vote. They could either tip the balance in favour of one of the main contenders or split their vote among different candidates.

The main contenders for the presidency are incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa from the ruling ZANU-PF party and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa from the Citizen’s Coalition for Change (CCC). ZANU-PF has been in power since independence in 1980 and enjoys strong support in rural areas. CCC is a new coalition formed by Chamisa after he lost access to his former party’s assets and funding following a court ruling. Chamisa remains hugely popular in urban areas and is the main face of the opposition.

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Other candidates include Saviour Kasukuwere – an exiled former ally of Mugabe – and Douglas Mwonzora – the new leader of Chamisa’s former party.

What ZESN Says

ZESN says that young people in Zimbabwe are 67.7% of the total population and that their participation in elections and governance is important to make the country more inclusive and engaged in politics.

ZESN has written a paper on youth participation in elections and governance in Zimbabwe. In the paper, ZESN says that young people face many challenges in participating in elections and governance, such as lack of information, education and resources, violence and intimidation, discrimination and exclusion, and lack of representation and influence.

ZESN also makes some recommendations on how to improve youth participation in elections and governance, such as:

Making the electoral system more fair, free and credible, making voter registration easier and more accessible for young people, providing more voter education and information for young people, encouraging more young people to run for office or join political parties, protecting the rights and safety of young people during elections as well as supporting more youth-led initiatives and organizations that work on elections and governance.

ZESN adds that young people have a lot of potentials to change the development of their country, and this has been shown by their involvement in protests, social media and campaigns for change.

The first-time voters could either boost ZANU-PF’s chances of retaining power by voting for the status quo or endorsing one of the alternative candidates. Or they could boost CCC’s chances of causing an upset by voting for change or rallying behind Chamisa. Or they could create a more diverse and competitive political space by voting for different candidates, depending on their preferences and interests.

Whatever they choose to do, the first-time voters have a unique opportunity to shape the future of their country. They have the power to make their voices heard and their votes count. They have the responsibility to exercise their civic duty and hold their leaders accountable. They have the potential to make a difference in Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections.

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Written by

Multi-award winning journalist/photojournalist with keen interests in politics, youth, child rights, women and development issues. Follow Lovejoy On Twitter @L_JayMut

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