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The Crux of Local Governance: Zim’s Electoral Conundrum

Young people queue in to cast their ballots during the August 23, 2023 elections in Harare, Zimbabwe (Pic by Lovejoy Mutongwiza)

In a country where local governance critically shapes the contours of daily life from sanitation to public safety, the recent local authority by-elections cast a shadow on the democratic spirit.

This vital sign of civic engagement is waning, as evidenced by the alarmingly low voter turnout in recent polls.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has raised a red flag, indicating a dire need for political parties to galvanize the electorate and uphold the political and electoral rights enshrined in Section 67 of the Constitution.

Local authority elections are the bedrock of democracy, determining the trajectory of local governance and directly impacting citizens’ daily lives.

These elections hold the key to the community’s welfare, from sanitation and public safety to public health, infrastructure, and future development.

Despite their direct impact on critical aspects of daily life, these elections are witnessing dwindling voter engagement.

A public policy expert, Marshall Veremu emphasized, “Local authority elections are not just a political formality; they are a critical determinant of our quality of life and the future we build for the next generation.”

The recent by-elections offer a stark depiction of this growing apathy. In Harare Municipality Ward 36, with a voter population of 15,139, only 2,636 individuals exercised their right to vote, marking a dismal 17.8% turnout.

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Contrastingly, Chinhoyi Municipality Ward 4 saw a slightly better engagement at 42.3%, with 1,431 of the 3,339 registered voters turning up.

These figures are not just statistics; they are a testament to a growing sense of voter fatigue and a loss of faith in the electoral process.

The African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (ACDEG), which Zimbabwe ratified, underscores the importance of credible elections and the decentralization of powers to democratically elected local authorities.

Experts point to several factors contributing to this worrying trend. Voter fatigue emerges as a primary concern, with citizens growing weary of frequent elections marred by recalls and poor electoral management.

The ZESN report underscores the impact of these systemic issues on voter confidence and turnout.

Moreover, political parties are found lacking in their efforts to mobilize the electorate. Yet, the gap between these ideals and the reality on the ground is vast.

“More needs to be done by political parties to encourage the electorate to ensure improved voter turnout in local authority by-elections and the enjoyment of political and electoral rights afforded them by Section 67 of the Constitution,” the ZESN report asserts, emphasizing the need for increased voter education and engagement from political factions.

Among the electorate, disillusionment runs deep. Theresa Nyangombe, a resident of Harare, expressed a growing cynicism towards the electoral process.

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“It feels like our votes don’t matter. We’ve seen little change in our day-to-day lives, and the promises made during campaigns rarely materialize,” he shared, echoing a sentiment prevalent among many Zimbabweans.

Political analysts highlight the detrimental impact of this voter apathy on local governance and democratic accountability.

“When the electorate disengages, it emboldens inefficiency and corruption, eroding the foundations of our local governance systems,” noted Thelma Mashaya, a political analyst.

“The essence of democracy is participation. Without it, the legitimacy of those in power is questionable,” she added.

Another analyst, Blessings Fambisai, said, “The credibility crisis in Zimbabwe’s electoral system is not due to a lack of legal frameworks but a failure to implement them effectively.”

The path to a vibrant local governance system in Zimbabwe is clear: it requires concerted efforts to educate, engage, and empower the electorate.

Only then can the true potential of local authority elections be realized, ensuring a future where every vote counts and every voice is heard

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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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