28 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Voter Apathy Looms Ahead of Referendum

Voter apathy could characterise the forthcoming referendum if the poor turnout witnessed so far at Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) awareness campaigns on the draft constitution is anything to go by. The COPAC outreach programme began on Monday countrywide amid low turnout at most designated centres.

COPAC's first two meetings in the second largest city could not take off as a result of poor attendance.

On Tuesday, a number of COPAC meetings were cancelled due to poor patronage.

The situation was the same in some major cities and towns.

Effie Ncube, coordinator of the Matabeleland Constitutional Reform Agenda, said the referendum was likely to have a poor turnout as the general populace appeared to have distanced itself from the whole constitution-making process.

"We have recorded extremely poor turnout in these meetings, which raises alarm as the people have started to distance themselves from the draft itself; this means that the people will not go and vote for the document and only a margin which can be less than 35 percent is likely to vote during the referendum", he said.

"People have failed to locate their opinions and their role in the whole process and therefore this has created an 'us and them' situation and the whole process is now viewed as that of the government."

The COPAC team has announced that the awareness programme would run simultaneously with the "yes vote" campaign.

But some human rights activists have blasted the Yes campaign, saying it was stifling freedom of choice.

Dumisani Nkomo, a political analyst, said voter apathy was real in the forthcoming referendum, claiming people were disappointed by the idea of a negotiated document.

"People are now confused and they no longer understand the COPAC draft process. It is very unlikely that they are going to vote for something that they do not understand.

"The idea of negotiations seems elitist to them," said Nkomo.

COPAC has downplayed indications pointing to voter apathy, blaming the poor attendance on poor publicity.

"The idea of voter apathy is far-fetched and ill- founded. The problems that resulted in poor turnout was the choice of media which we used to advertise as most people watch satellite television as well as use the internet. It was an oversight on our part not to use these platforms where we could reach most people," said Mwonzora.

The voters' roll would not be used in the referendum as prospective voters will only be allowed to use their national identification documents.

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