By-elections characterised by voter apathy

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Harare (New Ziana) – By-elections for vacant parliamentary and local government seats being held countrywide on Saturday were marked by voter apathy in the morning, a trend that worried election officials.

From Gwanda in the south, to Chinhoyi in the north and other areas in between, voters appeared to snub the polls in the early part of the day.

Polling stations opened at the exact time at seven o’clock in the morning in most, if not all areas, but voters were nowhere.

At Gwanda High School, the first voters trickled in 30 minutes after the polling station opened, while in Chinhoyi, only 20 people had voted by eight in the morning at the Vocational Training Centre, an area with over 400 registered voters.

Elsewhere in Chinhoyi, at Chaedza Hall with 420 registered voters, only 26 had cast their ballots by 8 am, an hour after the polling station opened.

The situation was the same elsewhere in the city, as was at Tasungana Primary School in Mbizvo in KweKwe, Nyameni Primary School in Marondera and Rujeko Clinic and other voting centres in Masvingo.

In the capital Harare, where 16 parliamentary seats were up for grabs, the pattern was the same – low voter turn-out.

“People, especially the youths, are not coming to vote,” an official from the national elections authority, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), said in Harare.

In Masvingo, ZEC deputy commissioner Rodney Kiwa, speaking at Rujeko polling station, said: “I wish the turn out could be better than what it is. In all the areas I visited, Ngundu and so forth, there are 50 percent less voters than what is expected in terms of turnout.”

This was echoed by his counterpart in Tsholotsho, who noted: “Voting is generally calm though it started very slow as the voter turn out was poor.”

It was similarly the case in Nkulumani constituency in Bulawayo, where aspiring candidate Kucca Phulu bemoaned the voter snub of the elections.

“Voter turn-out is low, usually people start trickling in later during the day, we hope that’s the case today,” he said.

But, to the credit of ZEC, polling stations appeared to have opened on time, and smoothly countrywide, and police maintained peace and order.

No incident of violence were reported by mid-day, with ZEC only reporting minor infringements of the electoral act by voters who were taking pictures of their cast votes.

Election officials remained hopeful, however, that voter turn-out might pick up as the day progressed, although indications pointed to serious voter apathy.

The by-elections, which were held up by the outbreak of Covid-19, are to choose new parliamentary and local government representatives to replace incumbents who either died or were recalled or re-assigned by their political parties.

A total of 28 parliamentary constituencies, and 122 local government jurisdictions, had seats up for grabs in Saturday’s by-elections.

The polls are seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s general elections expected by mid-year.

New Ziana

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