HARARE – As Zimbabwe prepares for presidential polls in 2018, our news editor, Gift Phiri, chats with Zachariah Mushawatu, a director of Youth Advocacy for Voter Enlightenment and Progressive Orientation (Yavepo) — a non-partisan organisation that promotes free and fair elections. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: Youths don’t want to register to vote, what are you doing as Yavepo to get them to participate in the forthcoming election whose registration starts in March?
A: It is true that voter apathy among youths has reached alarming levels.
Youths constitute 53 percent of the total adult voting population yet according to an audit of the voters’ roll done by the Research Advocacy Unit, only 8,8 percent of youths aged between 18 to19 were registered to vote in 2013 while only 19 percent of those aged between 20 to 24 were registered voters.
We are rolling out numerous projects aimed at generating interest in voting among the youth in the run-up to the bio-metric voter registration (BVR) process.
Soon, there is going to be a Zimdancehall instrumental or riddim as people in that field call it, called Yavepo.
Various talented youths are going to sing about the importance of voting.
Furthermore, we are going to run an essay writing competition on the importance of participation of youths in elections.
Q: You have said the five-year rule imposed by President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition MDC that requires aspiring National Assembly candidates to have been members of a party for at least five years before one can contest a primary election excludes youths from running as MPs. Can you elaborate on that?
A: These five-year rules are greatly disadvantageous to youths. While in Tsvangirai-led MDC one is only required to be a mere member for five years before they can contest a National Assembly seat, in Zanu PF it is worse.
In that party, one has to hold a post at district level for five years before they can even think about going for a seat in Parliament.
Older generations, by virtue of being in parties for a long time, are not affected by these rules.
We, the youths, however, are often found lacking when it comes to fulfilling these requirements since many youths who want political office have not been members of their parties for the prescribed period.
In the end, these major parties will turn out to be the biggest losers.
They should not opt to have unpopular candidates who have been in their parties for over five years while rejecting popular youths.
Q: But, the parties have argued the rules were meant to guard against defections and other forms of disloyalty?
A: The belief that those who have been in a party for a long time are less likely to defect or exhibit other forms of disloyalty is dangerously erroneous, precariously inaccurate and empirically unproven.
Most of the cases of defection we have witnessed in this country were not by young people but by older generations who were in their parties for protracted periods, the likes of Gabriel Chaibva who defected from the MDC to Zanu PF and Tracy Mutinhiri who defected from Zanu PF to MDC, to mention just but a few.
Q: Have you engaged the MDCs and Zanu PF?
A: Certainly. We have written letters to both Zanu PF and MDC outlining our grievances with the five-year rule and we await their response.
Q: What do you think about the requirement that you can only run for presidency when you are 40 and Parliament and Council when you are 21?
A: We are completely against those ages of candidacy for the presidency, Parliament and council.
We can’t have the age of candidacy for the presidency being 40 years in a country where life expectancy was 37 years in the not so distant past.
Many countries, like Brazil among others, have the age of candidacy for that post at 35 years.
Other well established democracies, like France for instance, have the age of candidacy for the presidency at 18 years.
Yavepo advocates for a gradual decrease of the age of candidacy for the post of president so as not to alarm the electorate with drastic changes. For now, we should go down to 35 from 40 and gradually continue downwards from there.
Section 125 of the Constitution and 119 of the Electoral Act put the ages of candidacy for Parliament and Council at 21.
We are advocating for those Sections to be amended so that the age of candidacy for both Parliament and Council is aligned with the voting age.
At 18, citizens are allowed to drive, drink, vote, consent to sexual intercourse, get married and they are sentenced as adults not minors when they commit crimes.
These are all clear indications that as a country, we acknowledge that 18 is the age at which an individual is held to be fully mature intellectually.
There is thus absolutely no justifiable reason why those who are 18 and above should not be allowed to contest for Parliament and Council.
Q: What’s your take on youth quotas? Do you think they are a feasible way to increase participation of youths in such bodies as Parliament and Council?
A: Definitely! Over 108 countries worldwide have quotas for women in key decision-making bodies such as Parliament and Council.
In Zimbabwe, the government should introduce a youth quota of at least 30 percent in both Parliament and Council.
Alternatively, all political parties can introduce youth quotas of 30 percent for all seats they contest in national elections.
Q: What are you doing in the area of electoral reforms?
A: We are advocating for electoral reforms that ensure full participation of youths in all electoral processes.
We seek the amendment of section 24 of the Electoral Act with the aim of ensuring that youths who have no proof of residence are allowed to register to vote using affidavits.
Furthermore, we seek the easing of voter education regulations so that youth organisations such as Yavepo and others can freely educate youths on the importance of voting.
A cap on the amount candidates can spend in an election should be introduced so that money does not become the major determining factor in who wins or loses an election. This will also curb vote buying.
As youths who grew up in a dead economy, we have fewer financial resources than older generations who had a chance to obtain financial stability when our economy was still performing well.
Many other countries, including Canada, have spending limits. As Zimbabwe, we should take this route to ensure the full participation of youths in elections.
The strategies we are using in seeking these reforms include media advocacy and carrying out meetings with relevant authorities.
Q: Do you have confidence that Zec can run a credible 2018 poll?
A: No! Besides the fact that Zec is underfunded, it is implementing a new electoral system in the form of BVR in too short a period. Then of course there are issues to do with the composition of Zec which is made up of a lot of people from the security sector. This is a cause for concern.
Q: As you say, the Zec secretariat is still stuffed with security operatives, how can this be addressed?
A: Given that Zec has turned a deaf ear to calls by the opposition and civic society to restructure its secretariat, there is need to carry out peaceful protests demanding reforms as a way of piling pressure on Zec till it gives in to the demands of progressive forces seeking free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.
Q: Many youths are economic refugees in several countries, what are you doing to give them back their franchise rights?
A: We are seeking legal counsel on the feasibility of lodging a challenge in the Constitutional Court on the right of people in the Diaspora to vote.
If our legal counsel advises us that Yavepo, as an organisation with members in the Diaspora, has the locus-standi to lodge such an application, we will certainly take the government and Zec to task.
Q: What’s your view on the mooted grand coalition?
A: It is a public secret that the status-quo has not promoted democracy in Zimbabwe and has our economy teetering on the precipice of total collapse.
We are fully behind any efforts to bring about a new political dispensation that will do away with the current state of affairs and result in economic recovery and the respect of human rights.
That being said, we demand that youths be included in talks to do with the formation of the grand coalition.
Furthermore, we demand that 30 percent of Parliament and Council seats to be contested under the banner of the grand coalition be reserved for youths.
If the modus operandi used is primary elections, then primary elections in 30 percent of all constituencies should be among youths only, so that the 30 percent quota is satisfied.