EDITORIAL COMMENT: Low BVR turnout cause for concern

Figures released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on the number of people registered so far under its biometric voter registration (BVR) blitz are not impressive at all. Put another way, the figures are disappointing considering the hype around next year’s harmonised elections. Midway through the first of the four-phased registration process, just over half a million people (675 762) had registered this week. ZEC has a claimed capacity to register up to seven million people.

Mashonaland East, Manicaland, Midlands, Masvingo and Mashonaland Central (in descending order) have registered the highest numbers, but sadly, only the first two have breached the 100 000 mark. All three Matabeleland provinces have the lowest figures of people registered so far at around 25 000 each. Whether this is reflective of the population size or voter eligibility demographics is a story for another day.

One of the reasons given for the low turnout is lack of sufficient publicity. ZEC is accused of not doing enough to publicise its registration blitz, or where the registration centres are. If that is true, which we have no way of proving one way or the other, they must act fast.

The second reason is that the registration process takes too long per individual, instead of the promised four minutes for someone who meets all the stated requirements. That might be discouraging to a lot of people. We have to take into account the fact that most potential urban voters are in the informal sector where every minute counts. That means those conducting the registration process should be very efficient to allow as many people as possible to register in the shortest time.

Incidentally, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network reports of a ward in Epworth outside Harare where 200 people managed to register on October 16. If that were to be the daily average across the country, ZEC should possibly meet its seven million target.

Instead there have been complaints that sometimes people queue very early at registration centres only for ZEC officials to start ambling around 8am. This must put off a number of prospective voters. Add to that a third alleged reason for the slow process, the need for an affidavit or proof of residence before one can be registered to vote.

Of course this is a requirement of the law under the Electoral Act. The challenge is that few people are prepared for this kind of inconvenience. Not to mention that people are not interested in paying a cent to a Commissioner of Oaths for an affidavit. The political parties might need to urgently look at these issues. It is in their interest. Talking about political parties, we could hazard that they are perhaps the biggest culprit in the current voter registration apathy if not fiasco. This is for two main reasons.

The first is that there has been too much time and effort wasted trying to discredit the BVR process itself than inspiring confidence in the new system. Opposition political parties are, unfortunately, the biggest culprits, besides their haggling over alliances and coalitions which never seem to materialise. The second reason, closely related to the above, is that because of these sideshows (Zanu-PF and its factional wars), the political parties have done very little to galvanise potential voters to register. None of the parties is giving prospective voters a message of hope.

The focus so far has been on securing positions for the elite. People need to feel that there is something for them in the electoral outcome to be inspired and energised to go and register to vote. The parties are not doing that. Then we have a last minute rush, which tends to clog the system!

This might be too painful a truth to swallow, yet sadly, if the current voter registration trend persists, next year’s voter turnout might just be the lowest ever recorded since Independence, with the attendant questions about the legitimacy of the ensuing government.

The time to act in the best interest of the nation is now than banking on coalition governments which get bogged down in ideological wrangling.

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