VOTER registration officially got off to a sluggish start on Thursday, marking the country’s first major step towards the highly-anticipated elections this year.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced last month that the exercise will begin January 3 and run through April, urging voters to register and inspect the shambolic roll.
But authorities appeared to have totally forgotten about the registration as they hardly issued any official word. No public awareness was ever carried.
ZEC deputy chairperson Joyce Kazembe told NewZimbabwe.com that while people were free to visit voter registration offices, the official outreach had been adversely affected by lack of funds.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa says the exercise will cost $21 million.
Instead, the task was unofficially left to civil society groups and individuals who took matters into their own hands and reminded each other on social media.
“Do the unexpected. Take 20 minutes out of your day, do what young people all over the world are dying to do: register to vote,” implored the Election Resource Centre (ERC) on Facebook.
Several civil society groups, including the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) have been reminding voters of the crucial exercise.
Although their response was muted on Thursday, politicians from across the political divide have recently been urging supporters, especially the youths to register for the high-stakes elections.
“With effect from 3 January 2013, all eligible voters must assume their national responsibility by registering and verifying their names on the roll in readiness for the decisive moment: our elections,” said MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a recent statement.
“I appeal especially to the young people of our country, who form the largest group of our population, to take this responsibility seriously and to register to vote.
“Young people who do not register to vote must be reminded that they are outsourcing an important right which is critical to the determination of their future,” he added.
MDC leader Welshman Ncube, who spent the better part of last year on the campaign trail, has also urged young people to vote and shape their own destiny.
“You cannot afford to let this opportunity go by because doing that you will have to wait for another five years and that is a long time. You need to make a stand and say enough is enough,” Ncube said at a recent rally.
“President Robert Mugabe has robbed the elderly of their past and now he wants to rob you of your future. You need to fight for a better future and the only way is to retire the old man is by voting him out.”
Zanu PF also announced at its December conference that it was targeting women and young voters for the upcoming polls.
The youths are said to constitute around 60 percent of the country’s 5, 4 million registered voters.
Zimbabwe is currently pushing electoral and constitutional reforms ahead of a constitutional referendum and general polls whose dates are yet to be agreed by the MDC formations and Zanu PF.
Holding the two plebiscites, if the new constitution comes to fruition, will cost $192 million.
The figure was downgraded from the initial $220 million after the electoral body forfeited redrafting of electoral boundaries.