20 March 2013

Zimbabwe: Youths Shun Referendum

THE majority of youths above 18 years of age who were eligible to vote in the constitutional referendum shunned casting their votes despite figures from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) indicating that more than three million Zimbabweans voted during the one-day polling. Results released by ZEC on Tuesday showed that the YES vote prevailed, amassing 3 079 966, which is 94, 5 percent of the total valid votes cast.

The NO vote, encouraged by Lovemore Madhuku's National Consti-tutional Assembly, polled 179 489, which is 5, 5 percent of the total valid votes cast. There were 56 627 spoilt votes.

While partners in the inclusive government have hailed the turnout as massive, information gathered by this newspaper during the voting showed that most youths who were eligible to vote did not do so over the weekend because they were either ignorant of the contents of the draft or simply did not care which way the decision went.

ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change were for once in agreement over supporting the constitution.

While it could not be established exactly how many under 30s participated in the vote, evidence gleaned from many polling stations in and around Harare showed that few youths voted with those interviewed in Domboshava and Harare indicating that they could not vote for a constitution they had not read while some were afraid of being targets of violence in the forthcoming elections.

Media reports also indicated that most youths in Marondera and surrounding areas stayed away from polling stations complaining that they had not read the draft.

Apart from the 1980 general elections, independent Zimbabwe has a history of voter apathy, especially from 1990.

Voters were trickling in at polling stations in Hatcliffe in the morning and later in the afternoon with very few youths eager to cast their votes.

The situation was the same at polling stations visited by The Financial Gazette in Mount Pleasant, Malbereign and Domboshava.

However, a relatively long queue was seen at Domboshava "Showground" where adult voters braved the chilly morning.

Two elderly women told this reporter that they had voted despite having not read the constitution. They said they were depending on what they had been told by their political parties.

In the queue, only a handful of voters were youths while many of their peers were milling around the shopping centre, with some drinking beer, playing "pool" or simply seated doing nothing. They refused to answer questions on the referendum.

But some young adults at Domboshava caves indicated that they did not get time to read the draft constitution and were too busy at their workplaces to go and vote.

"The problem is that I have not read the draft and so I cannot just go and vote for something I am not aware of. Besides, I work long hours which does not allow me enough time to sit and read since I leave my workplace late and start early the following morning," said one bartender in Domboshava.

In Mount Pleasant and Malbereign, few youths were seen at the polling station while the officials pointed out that profile of voters was "mixed".

Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network chairperson, Solomon Zwana, said poor preparations for the referendum could have contributed to the voter apathy experienced in some parts of Harare.

"People failed to relate to the referendum since they were not given ample time to study the draft document, let alone access it. We have always said that the referendum was not supposed to be rushed before the draft was adequately publicised to the electorate," Zwana said.

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