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Political Polarization Evident as Low Voter Turnout Plagues By-Elections

In Zimbabwe’s political theatre, the curtain rises and falls on by-elections with a troubling trend: the seats are filled, but the audience is sparse

The recent by-elections have once again spotlighted the deepening chasm of political polarization.

In light of this ideological division, the essence of democratic governance hangs in the balance, overlooked and overshadowed by partisan interests.

Yet, despite their importance, the by-elections continue to be snubbed, a symptom of the widening gap between political factions. This apathy undermines the very essence of democracy, which thrives on citizen participation and accountability.

The widening gap of political polarization has relegated the essence of by-elections to the sidelines, diminishing their significance in the eyes of both politicians and the electorate.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network’s (ZESN)observations in the just-ended by-elections reveal a landscape where citizens, though empowered by the constitution to influence the national direction, are retreating from the ballot box.

Despite ZESN’s commendation of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for logistical improvements and a peaceful campaign atmosphere, the voter turnout remains a whisper in the clamour of political discourse.

In the recent by-elections, marked by the triumph of Zanu PF candidates with substantial margins, the prevailing political landscape further underscores the entrenched nature of this polarization. Kevin Mutimbanyoka’s victory with a lead of 1,559 votes and George Mashavave’s win with a lead of 2,040 votes serve as a testament to this reality.

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The voter turnout in both by-elections was very low. Harare East Constituency recorded a
turnout of 15.2%, and Mount Pleasant Constituency recorded an 11.6% turnout.

During the August 2023 harmonised elections, a total of 24 482 people cast their votes in Harare East while 26 160 participated in the election in Mount Pleasant.

According to Election Resource Centre (ERC) legal and advocacy officer Takunda Tsunga, a pre-election survey indicated that 22,8% were unaware of the by-elections.

Tsunga said the low voter turnout is a new low. “While by-elections generally have lower voter turnout rates, the levels are now concerning and are testament to the insufficient voter education being undertaken ahead of the by-elections.”

These elections are not mere formalities; they are the bedrock upon which legislative bodies are built, laws are crafted, and the citizenry’s interests are represented.

The political polarization in Zimbabwe is not a new phenomenon. It has been a persistent issue, with the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition parties like CCC and MDC-T pulling apart to unprecedented distances.

This divide has seeped into the electorate, leaving a polarized voting population that is increasingly disenchanted with the electoral process.

In a climate where political allegiance often trumps substantive policy discussions, the democratic spirit is at risk of being eroded.

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Meanwhile, ZESN’s commendation of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for certain improvements in the electoral process is one to be taken note of.

The enhanced quality of signage, legibility of voter rolls, and the observed peaceful environment during campaigns are certainly steps in the right direction.

Yet, these commendable efforts are overshadowed by the broader neglect of key electoral stakeholders, particularly Persons With Disabilities (PWDs).

Addressing the needs of PWDs remains a pressing issue for ZEC. In a society striving for inclusivity and equal representation, the needs of PWDs cannot be sidelined.

ZESN rightly calls for the ZEC to pay heed to this marginalized demographic, urging improvements to accommodate their participation in the electoral process.

From accessibility to polling stations to the legibility of voter rolls, there is an urgent need for reforms that ensure every citizen, regardless of physical ability, can exercise their constitutional rights without hindrance.

Moreover, ZESN recommends increasing font sizes for displayed voter rolls as a step towards inclusivity.

In a digital age where information accessibility is paramount, catering to the needs of those with visual impairment is not just a moral imperative but a fundamental aspect of democratic governance.

It’s a call for the ZEC to count votes and make every vote count.

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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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