A BLITZ for the issuance of national identification documents has kicked off and it will be followed, on 11 April, by the second phase of the biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise. The February BVF blitz was dismal, as very few voters registered.
At that time, the low number was attributed to people’s failure to acquire national IDs — particularly young voters who often lack documents.
During the February blitz, it became clear that political parties — especially the opposition — were not showing the seriousness expected of them at this level of the political game.
A report jointly written by two civil society groups, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Election Resource Centre, on the last BVR blitz made stark revelations. It was found, for instance, that political parties were not bothering to observe the voter registration process.
This is astonishing. Party leaders are quick to scream “vote rigging”, yet they conveniently forget that an election is a process and not an event.
The democratic process demands the active participation of political parties in the entire electoral process. A party which only resurfaces a few days before polling and expects to miraculously win is wallowing in wishful thinking.
It just does not work like that. In February, only 90 out of 581 voter registration centres were subjected to electoral observation. How on earth do political parties hope to be taken seriously when they show such a breath-taking lapse in concentration?
But the failure to observe the BVR process is only part of the problem. The real crisis is the low number of newly registered voters. Why are young Zimbabweans not registering? The ID headache is part of the answer, of course, but there are clearly other factors at play.
The time has come for political parties to partner with community groups, civil society and the media in raising awareness on the importance of voter registration. More importantly, youths must be placed at the forefront of this voter registration campaign. We have all seen how young people are side-lined from these campaigns.
As a result, there is a generational disconnect between those who are running these uninspiring campaigns and the target audience.
If this country really wants young people to register as voters, it must make conscious efforts to place them at the heart of voter registration campaigns. This is not rocket science. The strategy ought to be two-pronged: to stimulate the political engagement of youths and to boost young people’s participation in democratic processes.
And we have to emphasise that youth participation in politics should not be restricted to voting. It should also involve the fielding of young people as candidates. Young people are likely to vote for their peers.
This enhances public confidence in politics. It goes without saying that young people constitute the majority. As we have previously stated in the pages, without citizen participation in electoral processes and governance, there is no democracy to talk about. To find relevance in the lives of young people, political parties must reconfigure and transform into youth-focused organisations. There are too many tired politicians in the existing parties who believe that public affairs is the exclusive domain of self-important geriatrics.
The few youths who currently participate in politics are exploited and abused by political overlords. This month’s national ID blitz and the subsequent BVR blitz are glorious opportunities to empower the young people. They must grab this moment with both hands.