LUSAKA.- As Zambia goes for general elections next week, analysts believe that the outcome of the polls will be triggered by a number of factors, among them the first-time voters. The southern African country will hold presidential, legislative and local government elections on August 11. The elections will be held alongside a referendum meant to amend part three of the constitution which deals with people’s rights.It will, for the first time, be electing city mayors following amendments to the constitution. In the 2011 general elections, first-time voters played a critical role in swinging the votes in favour of the then opposition Patriotic Front (PF).
With no clear favourite candidate to win the presidential election in next week’s election, one obvious thing is that the presidential race is mainly between incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the ruling PF and main opposition challenger, Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND).
According to the 2016 final register, there are 6 698 372 voters eligible to take part in the August 11 polls. The number of registered voters is an increase from the that of 2011, which had 5 166 088 voters.
This means that the electoral body, Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), registered 1 532 284 new voters during a voter registration exercise conducted last year in readiness for the general elections.
So, what impact will the first-time voters have in this election?
“We can’t literally say the first-time voters will decide the outcome of this election because there are a number of things that we need to consider. While it is true that first-time voters played a role in the 2011 elections, this depends on the number of people who turn up to vote,” Neo Simutanyi, executive director of the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Zambia, told Xinhua in an interview.
He said the past three elections in the country have witnessed low voter turnout and predicted that this could happen even in this year’s elections.
“We hope that the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the political parties will use the remaining days to encourage people to vote, otherwise we may have low voter turnout,” he added.
He however admitted that the first time voters, if they turned up in large number numbers, may have a say in the outcome of the elections, adding that the country requires a voter turnout of between 3,5 to 4 million people. According to him, the huge number of people being seen at the public rallies being held especially by the two top contenders does not usually reflect in the number of people who turn up to vote.
About nine presidential candidates are taking part in this year’s elections, but one of the major features of the current election is the need for the presidential winner to amass 50 percent plus one of the total votes.
The analyst said the requirement for the 50 percent plus one winner poses a great challenge following the poor turnout in previous elections and predicted that the country may go for a re-run.
Macdonald Chipenzi, an electoral expert, said the influence of the first-time voters in the election will depend on the type of messages the respective parties are putting across to them. According to him, if the respective political parties capture the first-time voters with the relevant messages, the new voters have the ability to change the direction of the election.
“It is true that first-time voters usually have an influence in any election over the world,” he said.
The analyst, who is former executive director of the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), a local organisation involved in electoral issues, said the other factor is where the first-time voters are mainly concentrated.
“These political parties have strongholds, and if a particular stronghold has many first-timer voters, it can swing the votes in that party’s favor,” Chipenzi added.- Xinhua