August 30, 2011

Low voter registration for presidential and parliamentary elections

A chase for votes has kicked off for the much-anticipated September 20 Zambia elections. At least 10 presidential hopefuls are in the race after seven of their colleagues pulled out. Over 500 candidates are vying for the 150 seats in the National Assembly. Aspirants and their campaigners are crisscrossing the breadth and length of the country, hoping to get their lion’s share of votes. Out of the nation’s 13 million-plus citizens, only about 5.2 million registered to vote in the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.

Though many are standing as presidential candidates after paying an affordable fee of slightly over $2,000, by and large, it will be a two-horse race between 74-year-olds — incumbent Rupiah Banda and Michael Sata.

Mr Sata, an opposition leader who has lost three past elections but still a force to reckon with, relies on urban votes – especially the poor, unemployed youths – and his fellow Bemba speaking people that almost handed him the Presidency in the 2006 and 2008 contest. Mr Sata anchors his campaign on ideals like tax reduction for ordinary people while increasing the same for mines and foreign firms as well as employment creation. His catchy slogan sums: “More money in your pockets”.

President Banda, on the other hand, depends on – as usual for his governing MMD party – the rural electorate and some votes in urban areas based on his successful steering of the economy during the rough phase of the global economic crisis, increase in jobs, inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDIs) and infrastructure development.
At least two former finance ministers, 52-year-old Edith Nawakwi (the first woman to have ever held the title) and Ng’andu Peter Magande, are vying for the presidency.
Though the duo is not front runners, their prowess in economic matters will endear them to voters, particularly the middle class. With thousands of new voters, mostly youths on board, politicians are drafting means of getting the winner vote. Demographically, voting patterns might not change from the past.

Bemba speaking provinces – Northern, Luapula, urban Copperbelt and multi-ethnic Lusaka favour Mr Sata. While Eastern (Banda’s homeland), Central, North Western, rural Copperbelt, Western, parts of Southern and rural Lusaka tilt towards the governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and its flag bearers – Mr Banda. However, the bloody protests in Western Province over underdevelopment might cost Banda and his party substantial votes.

Mr Sata’s party and the second largest opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) of Hakainde Hichilema, which enjoys support among Tonga people of Southern Province and parts of North Western province, have cried foul over what they term as the MMD’s machinations for the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to register more voters in the governing party’s strongholds.

However, as always, the heavily populated mineral-rich Copperbelt Province still has the highest number of registered voters followed by Lusaka while the Western and North Western have the lowest figures, according to the ECZ’s Certified Register of Voters. Mr Sata and Mr Hichilema’s inroads into Eastern Province might temper with Mr Banda’s assured votes from his kin.

Traditional rulers, though prohibited by law from taking partisan positions or campaigning for candidates, have defied constitutional provisions and are, on daily basis, in the media or in their communities openly canvassing for votes for their preferred presidential and parliamentary candidates. Regularly, chiefs are paraded on state TV endorsing Mr Banda’s candidacy. For this, the chiefs have attracted condemnation from pro-democracy groups and opposition parties. Allegations are rife that chiefs that endorse candidates get “gifts” as appreciations. Even church leaders, are also cashing in by endorsing their preferred candidates. (Saturday Nation)

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