The voter turnout in the Chilanga parliamentary constituency by-election in Lusaka has tremendously decreased by over 50 per cent in the last three years of general and by-elections, Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) data shows.

And Anti-Voter Apathy (AVAP) executive director Richwell Mulwani has blamed the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and President Edgar Lungu for failure to tame ruling party cadres.

The voter turnout across the country has generally taken a downward trajectory as most eligible registered voters do not go to polling stations on the voting day out of fear of being attacked by their opponents.

Research conducted by News Diggers! found that Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) data shows a striking contrast in the voter turnout in Chilanga constituency where the voter turnout decreased to 14,121 out of the 49,614 registered voters, representing 28.46 per cent, compared to 27,464 of the total 49,614 registered voters in the 2016 general elections, representing 55.36 per cent.

The voting pattern has consistently decreased even in other provinces like the Copperbelt, Eastern and Western Provinces since the 2011 general elections. In the 2011 general election, Nkana constituency in Copperbelt’s Kitwe District recorded a decrease in voter turnout from 25,231 voters out of the 39,094 total registered voters in 2011, representing a 64.54 per cent, to an unbelievable 15,031 voters out of the total 39,090 registered voters in 2015, representing 38.41 per cent.

And Vubwi District of Eastern Province, usually a hotspot for political violence, has followed the same decreasing pattern in the voter turnout since the 2011 tripartite election. The district, which recorded a turnout of 8,404 voters out of the total 18,084 registered eligible voters, representing 46.47 per cent, decreased to 4,232 voters who turned up out of the total 18,074 voters in 2015, representing a 23 per cent decrease.

According to the ECZ data, Nalolo constituency in Western Province has also followed the same pattern where only 10,535 out of the total 24,660 registered voters representing 46.47 per cent. However, Nalolo recorded a downward trajectory in the 2015 election where only 6,884 out of the total 24,656 registered voters, representing 27.92 per cent who bothered to show up and vote.

Commenting on the findings, Mulwani attributed the low voter turnout to the absence of the necessary civic and voter education and failure by political leaders to tame their cadres.

He projected that Zambia would witness the most disastrous elections in 2021 if President Edgar Lungu does not own up to the ongoing political violence as Head of State and deal with the vice once for all.

“To us, as AVAP, that observation means a lot in terms of providing the necessary civic and voter education. And also finding solutions to reduce voter apathy and finding solutions to reduce political violence. We feel that the President of the Republic of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, should take a bold stance to denounce violence, that can be done because he’s the Head of State. There is no way he can govern a country with these levels of violence. So, to us, the dwindling of the voter turnout, actually, is as a result of the intimidation, fears and threats that the people of Zambia are having in constituencies where there is a by-election. A threatened society is being created, such that even when you call people for a simple meeting, they are fearing that they may be attacked because this has been a trend of the PF. So, now the UPND has also decided to use an ‘eye for an eye’ or ‘panga for panga’ slogan, which is becoming very dangerous in our society,” Mulwani warned.

“We need to confront this violence using a non-violent means. We must [use] the means that Martin Luther King Jr. used when he tried to prove that human rights must be respected. Therefore, the political cadres who are becoming criminals in our country must be tamed. And they can only be tamed by their leaders. There is no way that democracy can become injurious in our nation because democracy has come to help us improve our governance. Democracy has come to ensure that there is accountability in the way resources are being utilised in our country. So, there is no need to kill and harm people because of an election. And if this situation is not confronted with the effort that it deserves, we are going to have a disastrous election in 2021 because it means that only few people can go and vote, those that are strong and armed. We don’t need that because democracy does not work like that.”

Mulwani further called for a national indaba where all the difference amongst political parties would be conclusively resolved.

“We need to have a national indaba before 2021 where all these issues will be clarified. We need to address this problem and confront it to ensure that now we go back to the drawing board as to why the cadres are behaving like that. We want to also appeal to President Lungu to de-politicize the markets and bus stations; his cadres are coming from the market and bus stations. Therefore, those that do not subscribe to their objectives, they are pushed out of the market. The other issue that is so critical is that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) must do what is required of them. ECZ has got powers to disqualify a party that is involved in electoral violence or engages in malpractice. They have those powers and can do these things, so why are they wasting time? So blame them for not acting as we expect them to do,” said Mulwani.