A VOTER turnout survey report by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has found evidence that people were kept away from voting in the 2016 elections by issues such as lack of confidence in the electoral body, violence and intimidation, and corruption.
Declining voter turnout
Since 1991 when multi-party democracy was re-introduction, voter turnout in Zambia has been declining, especially in the last decade. The average voter turnout since 1991 has been 56.41 percent. In the 2016 general elections voter turnout was 56.45 percent compared to 53.65 percent in the 2011 general election.
The unpublished study seen by MakanDay show that voter turnout recorded in the 2016 elections falls behind the global average of 66.25 percent. The study commissioned by ECZ and funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was to investigate the causes of low voter turnout in the 2016 general elections and propose measures to enhance voter turnout in future elections.
The 2018 study which was done over a five-month period (May – September) covered a sample of 1,520 homes countrywide.
Makanday Centre for Investigative Journalism has established that some of the reasons for not voting such as lack of voter registration documents (NRCs and Voters cards), long distances, long queues at polling stations and illiteracy have not been addressed ahead of this year’s elections. Zambians will be voting for the presidency, national assembly, local councillors and mayors, .
The report points out that even though most people considered the ECZ to be professional in the conduct of the elections, some of them felt that some poll staff recruited to conduct elections were partisan. It was also felt the ECZ did not apply the electoral code of conduct to erring political parties and media houses and failed to regulate the application of the Public Order Act.
The survey shows that women participation in elections, was negatively impacted by illiteracy. Most illiterate women had difficulties to understand party manifestos, could easily be bribed, and were not able to receive voter education provided in English. Another challenge faced by women was political violence which prevented them from going to vote.
The study also lists high unemployment and a lack of economic opportunities as some of the issues which affect the ability of the youths to participate in the elections. Youths also lacked interest in politics.
It further highlights major challenges faced persons with disabilities’ participation in elections is wrong information formats, poor accessibility to polling stations, inappropriate voting booths at most polling, and political violence.
Zambia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and enacted in 2010 the Persons with Disabilities Act, ensuring the right of the disabled to vote and to be elected. The Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG), which actively followed the electoral process, in 2016, received complaints from people with disabilities on the lack of voter education, especially for deaf people.
According to the report, voter education was also a concern during the registration process as there were no sign language interpreters at registration centres.
When it comes to perception of media balance during the 2016 general election, the survey found out that majority of respondents – 60 percent felt that the private media was balanced in its reporting. However, 43 percent of the respondents felt that the public media was balanced.
When respondents were asked to indicate their position if elections were held in 2021, 86% indicated they would vote. The main reason cited by respondents for voting in 2021 was “to change their economic status”, “elect their preferred candidate” and “to exercise their right to vote”.
“The key drivers to changing one’s economic status were development, poverty alleviation, agriculture and employment creation,” the report said.
It was observed that unfulfilled promises by politicians and religious beliefs are the factors likely to deter voters from voting in 2021.
MakanDay is a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN): https://gijn.org