By Nomalanga Moyo
18 March 2013
Contrary to earlier reports that Zimbabwe’s just-ended constitutional referendum was marred by massive voter apathy, figures would indicate one of the highest turnouts since independence.
This was said by MDC-T chief election observer Senator Obert Gutu, who is based at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s command centre in Harare.
Zimbabweans voted on Saturday for a new charter for the country, in a poll that shows a landslide victory for the ‘yes’ camp spearheaded by all three political parties in the coalition government.
Gutu told SW Radio Africa that so far 2.8 million ballot papers had been counted, with figures from six constituencies still to be declared, which is expected to raise the figure to more than 3 million. An estimated 6 million people are on the voters roll.
Since the 1980 watershed elections, the only other election with more than 50% voter turnout were the 2002 presidential poll which recorded slightly more than 3 million votes. The 2000 constitutional referendum saw only 1.3 million votes cast.
Speaking about the turnout on Saturday, Gutu said: “To me this is a reasonable figure, and not one that indicates apathy if anything, it reflects total lack of apathy. It reflects total enthusiasm on the part of the people, and their eagerness to participate in the affairs of the country.
“A huge number of those who voted were young people below the age of 40, and this is a very good development for democracy.”
Gutu said the figures “should make Zimbabweans very proud”, and added that had there been more time allocated for voter awareness, an even larger number of people would have cast their ballot.
The senator said the referendum should give ZEC an idea of what to expect during the harmonised election later this year, and also ensure that “they are fully prepared to conduct a credible, free and fair election”.
Gutu however bemoaned the lack of funding for ZEC which he said this needed to be addressed before the general election. Of concern was the issue of vehicles, polling booths, computers and human resources, which he said could severely affect the legitimacy of the polls.
While many Zimbabweans will agree with Senator Gutu on the need to improve ZEC’s resources and capacity, it is the revelation that this was a well-attended poll that will surprise many.
Reports over the voting weekend pointed to a low turnout by Zimbabweans, who stayed away either as a protest against the politicisation of the process or saw it as a non-event meant to hurry us towards the real event – the harmonised elections.
According to Bulawayo correspondent Lionel Saungweme, the yes camp should celebrate these figures with caution.
He said: “This is still a low turnout considering that there were more polling stations, voting wasn’t constituency-based and people only needed national identification or their passport to vote.
“High turnout should be almost double the figures in previous polls where the restrictions mentioned above were in force. Also, there have been youths that have turned 18 years of age since the last poll and that also has contributed to the figures coming from ZEC.
Simon Muchemwa, SW Radio Africa’s Harare correspondent, said it was insincere for political parties to say voters turned out in their numbers considering in a number of instances people were forced to vote, with most being told how to vote.
He said: “Generally, Zimbabweans did not turn out in their numbers due to the lack of voter awareness by COPAC as well as the political parties. The lack of publicity for the referendum resulted in voter apathy. However, for those people that went to vote, it was as like they were being forced by their political parties to go to the polls.”
Muchemwa said ZANU-PF supporters were already going around areas such as Mbare and Epworth and checking for indelible ink marks on people’s fingers to prove that they indeed voted.
Official results of the referendum are to be announced within five days.