Unprecedented' low turnout clouds Zambia's vote

Polling centers close at 4:00pm GMT with many claiming heavy rain prevented voter turnout.

Unprecedented' low turnout clouds Zambia's vote
World Bulletin / News Desk
 
A perceived unprecedented low turnout overshowded Zambia's presidential byelection on Tuesday, with many attributing the apathy to heavy rains.

"Never in the history of Zambian elections have we experienced this kind of apathy," Oliver Kabombo, the presiding officer for UNZA Sports Hall polling station in capital Lusaka, told The Anadolu Agency.

His polling station has a total of 5,000 registered voters.

"Regrettably, only 50 people had cast their votes by midday," said Kabombo. "This is how bad the situation is in this polling station."

Polling stations opened at 6:00am local time (4:00am GMT) as scheduled and are expected to close by 6:00pm.

But less than two hours before closure time, the number of voters who had turned out to cast their vote was at record low.

"As you can see, time is running out," said Kabombo. "We don't expect to have any better result than what have recorded so far."

He arrtibuted the low turnout to ongoing heavy rains which began since midnight.

"Maybe, as time goes by, the turnout will improve, but it is doubtful," said the polling officer.

According to the Election Commission of Zambia, there are 5,166,088 registered voters.

They will elect a new president following the death of President Michael Sata in a London hospital late last year.

Voters will choose from among 11 contenders, including Defense and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu, who is contesting the race on the ruling Patriotic Front (PF)'s ticket, and Hakainde Hichilema of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).

-Unprecedented-

Terry Munyumbwe, the presiding officer for Kamwala High School polling station, also complained of the low voter turnout at his station.

"Imagine, we are experiencing this kind of apathy here in town…what about in rural areas where it was raining all night through," he told AA.

"I think this apathy has more than just staying away from voting because of the rains," Munyumbwe suggested.

He suspects that some people have just used rain as an excuse to stay away from voting.

"I think the actual problem which has made the people stay away from voting is the fear of violence which was recorded during the campaign period," said the official.

Samuel Mutale, the presiding officer for the Lusaka City Council Library polling station, agreed.

"On the surface, one would say the rains made the people stay away from voting, but deep down, the people are still scared of violence," he told AA.

Since November, Zambia has witnessed pockets of violence in the run up to presidential polls.

PF supporters recently clashed with UPND supporters in Mongu, provincial capital of Western Province.

Violence erupted when Hichilema refused to delay his helicopter's departure until a plane carrying acting President Guy Scott could land.

Recently, in the Shiwa Ngandu area of Zambia's Northern Province, police officers thwarted attempts by suspected PF supporters to torch a helicopter carrying several UPND leaders after it had landed in the area.

Police used teargas to disperse the crowd and several people arrested during the melee now face prosecution.

On Friday, political parties pledged not only to renounce and condemn all election-related violence, but also to disavow any groups or individuals found instigating electoral unrest.

Zambian authorities have already deployed 8,500 troops to police 6,456 polling stations nationwide ahead of the vote.

"We have not experienced any violence so far," asserted Mutale.

He regretted that although his polling station has the highest number of registered voters, only a few had cast their ballots.

Lusaka City Council Library polling station, the constituency of Acting President Guy Scot, has 21,000 registered voter.

So Far, according to Mutale, only 4,500 had voted.

"People have missed the opportunity to vote for their preferred candidates," he told AA.

When contacted for a comment, Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) director for elections Priscilla Isaacs said the situation was likely the same countrywide.

"Obviously, it is too early yet to conclude that we have recorded high apathy in this presidential by-election," she told AA.

"But our officers in the field countrywide have expressed worry on the low turnout of voters," Isaacs admitted.

She blamed the low turnout on bad weather, asserting that Commission Chairperson Justice Ireen Mambilima will give a comprehensive report on the turnout after the even of the voting.

"The only thing I can affirmatively say for now is that the voting process in most parts of the country has been reported to be peaceful so far," Isaacs asserted.

 

Last Mod: 20 Ocak 2015, 17:54
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