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  • ZIMBABWE: Voter apathy ahead of senate poll
    IRIN News
    November 23, 2005

    BULAWAYO - Zimbabwe's senate poll is scheduled for this weekend, but there is little sign of the heated political activity that normally accompanies elections.

    With the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) still divided over contesting the senate election and the ruling ZANU-PF doing little campaigning, the result has been apathy among voters in the southern Matabeleland region, who remain focused on the daily struggle to survive hunger and poverty.

    The 26 November poll date holds no significance for Angelina Nkomazana, a communal farmer in a tiny hamlet in Matabeleland North province.

    The day will be spent like any other, trying to make some money doing chores for her neighbours or collecting water for them from a distant dam with a donkey-drawn cart, while other Zimbabweans head for polling stations to vote in the country's inaugural senatorial election.

    Nkomazana, who has two orphaned grandchildren to take care of, told IRIN she knew very little about the upcoming election.

    "I have heard about it [the election] but I don't know when it is. Most people are in the dark [about it] ... and I personally have little interest. I'm tired of voting and things remain the same, with life getting tougher," she said.

    "I feel I have to concentrate on fending for my grandchildren. I struggle to feed them, and what makes my situation worse is that I've no support - both their parents are late [dead]," Nkomazana explained.

    Dozens of villagers IRIN spoke to in rural Matabeleland echoed her sentiments. The controversy over the revival of a bicameral parliament has passed over their heads.

    Bekezela Dube, a villager in Matabeleland South province, found voting in an election he did not understand disturbing. "Elections are important, but only when people know what they are voting for. I get frightened when I involve myself in things that I don't understand - what if I vote and later discover that I've voted for something that will kill me?"

    He added that he was a loyal supporter of the MDC but felt let down by his party because it had done little to educate him about the senate, which was reinstituted by a constitutional amendment earlier this year after being abolished in 1988.

    "All I know is that we once had a senate, but why it was abolished and why it has become handy at this point in time remains a mystery to me - both the government and political parties were supposed to explain this to us way before. Now there is no more time, and I think most people will not vote. I will vote simply for the love of my party," he commented.

    The MDC has split into two factions, with party leader Morgan Tsvangirai calling for a boycott of the senate poll, while secretary-general Welshman Ncube and other senior members advocate participation.

    The pro-senate faction argues that boycotting the poll would be tantamount to surrendering political space to the ruling ZANU-PF and have fielded 26 candidates in various provinces, including the opposition's traditional stronghold, Matabeleland, to lock horns with rivals from ZANU-PF and five smaller parties.

    The division within the MDC has hampered the campaign of their 'rebel' candidates, as Tsvangirai continues to encourage supporters to ignore the poll, in line with earlier party resolutions.

    However, ZANU-PF has done little campaigning itself. As a result, neither of the main political parties has made an effort to explain the senate to the electorate.

    The political rallies and election posters that usually adorn lampposts and walls have been largely absent, so too the traditional mudslinging between ZANU-PF and the MDC.

    Zimbabweans are also divided over the relevance of the senate, which critics argue was created to provide seats for those close to President Robert Mugabe.

    Most civic groups have supported Tsvangirai's call for a boycott, reasoning that the Zim $90 billion (over US $3 million) that will be spent on the creation of a senate could be better spent on poverty alleviation.

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