REVELATIONS by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba that 60% of the 5,3 million people registered to vote in the upcoming general elections expected by July are between the ages of 18 and 40 point to a massive demographic shift in the profile of eligible voters. Even if some put the figure at 44% using the age bracket of 18 to 35, it is still a major swing.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
This is particularly dramatic given that during the last elections, less than 10% of youths were registered to vote.
According to the Research and Advocacy Unit, in 2013 only 8,87% of the youth were on the voter’s roll. That translated to nearly two million people who did not vote.
Youth participation in the last elections controversially won by former president Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF with a landslide was negligible. Common among the reasons why the youth did not register to vote were lack of ID cards, lack of knowledge of the process, unfamiliarity with the Zimbabwean political terrain, lack of motivation, failure to understand the benefit of voting and dearth of interest in politics.
However, the situation seems to have radically changed as Zec figures show. Chigumba disclosed new statistics when Zec, the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network and the Election Resource Centre appeared before the parliamentary portfolio committee on Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. Because of this, she said that the 2018 elections will be a vote of young people — a watershed.
This means that whoever will win the next elections need strategies and tactics to capture the youth vote; implying understanding the demographic structure more, the interests of the youth and how to address their needs. Parties have to analyse the location, education ranks, gender, income levels and other dynamics in order to effectively design messages and programmes that address the youths’ concerns.
Although President Emmerson Mnangagwa is decades out of the most influential voting bloc in terms of age and his most likely rival MDC-T leader Nelson Chamisa falls within, it is not automatic that youths will vote for the opposition candidate. It depends on many variables, including party manifestos, messages, programmes, mobilisation and the issues of positional voting compared to competence voting. Many factors shape people’s voting behaviour. The environment itself is a major influence. Of course, there are issues of bribery, manipulation and rigging of the electoral process that interfere with people’s choices.
Elections in Zimbabwe have for many years been hotly-disputed because of violence and fraud. Electoral theft remains the biggest threat to a credible and legitimate outcome of the polls.
That is why the elections must be free, fair and credible to ensure legitimacy. Without that the country would continue to go round in circles.
For the first time since Independence in 1980, youths hold the key as to who will rule the country, barring rigging and theft.
This is refreshing. Young people in Zimbabwe have always been associated with political violence or apathy during elections.
However, the road to the 2018 polls has witnessed a surge in interest by young people, not only to be supporters as voters, but also participate as candidates. The rise of youth civil society organisations (CSOs), social movements and youth activists over the past two years has seen a potentially game changing phenomenon in local politics.
This threatens to alter the political landscape which has always been dominated by old and tired politicians who have largely failed the nation and its people. Realising this, Zanu PF and the opposition are currently strategising around fielding mostly youths as their candidates. This provides an interesting dynamic.
Given their demographic strength, the youth can be a catalyst for change in Zimbabwe. According to the CSOs Election Strategy (2017-2019), considering that baseline figures show 60% of registered voters are youths the Civic Voter and Education Strategy seeks to ensure 80% of registered youths turn out to vote.