Restoring meaning to elections

Elections – that formal process through which individuals are chosen to hold particular public positions – has, mainly in Africa, been riddled with obstacles and distortions.

Voters queue to cast their vote during the 2008 elections.
Voters queue to cast their vote during the 2008 elections.

That elections are supposed to give effect to the democratic principle of direct individual participation in the governance of their country ceases to become the case given the levels of violence, manipulation and control of electoral processes by those with vested interests. Zambia recently held exemplary elections, which gave rise to well-placed expectations that Zimbabwe could achieve the same if adequate preparations are made.

Given the levels of violence, misinformation, vote-rigging and chicanery that has characterized previous elections in Zimbabwe, there is widespread disillusionment among the ordinary people that elections are a viable vehicle through which citizens can effectively choose their leaders.

Voter apathy

Few believe that elections will make a difference and therefore many do not bother voting at all. The 2008 elections were characterized by extreme levels of voter apathy, especially in urban areas. The low turn out created more room for the manipulation of votes. For the person on the street, elections have lost meaning.

They have been reduced to a worthless exercise that needlessly exposes people to violence or some other political harm.

It appears that, time is ripe for Zimbabweans to invest in elections to achieve peaceful, lasting political change. While the peaceful electoral process in Zambia, together with an equally peaceful and smooth transfer of power for one administration to another, may appear out of question here, it’s not impossible. A lot of hard work went into preparing for elections and in ensuring that Zambia had credible, independent institutions responsible for election management.

A key lesson that we can learn from Zambia is that democratic elections do not just happen all by themselves. A lot of work goes into restoring true meaning and relevance to electoral processes and removing obstacles to the holding of free and fair polls. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission cannot just become independent and professional overnight, people must insist on, and ensure, its independence.

Education drive

We need a massive, multi-sectoral and multi-pronged voter and civic education drive across the country that restores people’s confidence in the electoral process. Voter education is essential to counter widespread misinformation, especially in rural areas where potential voters have often been misinformed.

A recent survey on electoral issues revealed appalling disinterest in electoral processes among the youths, the majority of whom have not bothered to be registered as voters. Political parties should not confuse rally attendance with registered voters, the two groups are often not identical. Political parties should seek to ensure that their members and supporters are registered to vote. Thousands of youths who would otherwise engage in political violence should be targeted to register to vote and to be champions of peaceful elections.

Beyond the administrative aspects of preparing for elections, villages, wards and communities should organize their members into peace brigades with a responsibility to prevent violence, or expose it wherever it occurs. When communities preach and practice zero tolerance to violence it will be impossible for outsiders to instigate and perpetrate violence.

Communities should plan ways to monitor and expose merchants of violence and shame the political leadership that promotes such activity. With violence, ignorance and misinformation out of the way, it will be possible to restore relevance and significance to elections.

Post published in: Politics

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