OPINION: Politicians and the many shades of voters’ apathy

Sunday October 20 2019


By Erick Mwakibete

As the first deadline for people to register to vote in the upcoming civic elections neared, there was concern of the low turnout of those who had been registered to take part in that democratic process. Suleiman Jafo, the Minister of State in the President’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), appealed to President John Magufuli to deal with leaders of the regions which fail to mobilise voters to turn out to at least fifty per cent.

To some opposition politicians like ACT-Wazalendo’s Zitto Kabwe, this low turnout was a “boycott” by voters and said that instead of people being intimidated to register, they should be encouraged to take part in this democratic process.

It is interesting that some opposition politicians, directly or indirectly, are laying the blame of voters’ apathy at the feet of government and the ruling party by extension. They have done little to nothing themselves to encourage voter registration across the country. In any given case, one would have expected that they would have mobilised their party members to go register first before throwing stones but there are no reports of opposition political parties conducting surveys of how many of their members have bothered to show up at registration centres.

As always, it is easier to point fingers, after all politicians thrive in the confusions. There are many reasons why a potential voter might not be bothered to turn up at the registration centre or appear to cast their votes after registering to do the same.

From the outset, our constitutional and legal set up give citizens a choice to be registered or not, they have a choice to cast their votes or decide against it. Politicians who are pointing fingers at each other or trying to manufacture reasons for low turnout should first acknowledge this fact.

Whether people are registered or not, can be a result of many factors in play.


For the last four years we have been a country of endless by-elections engineered by politicians for their own gains, costing the people they claim to represent a fortune in this democratic process. These by-elections were largely one-sided affairs as leading opposition parties (or factions within) boycotted them, which in turn affected voter turnout on election day. You cannot blame voters for not being bothered to register this time around. They are fatigued.

There are those who do not have any particular reason of not registering for civic polls or any other polls for that matter. These are spectators when it comes to elections. They know they have to take part to have a right to complain when things do not go well after leaders are elected, but still decide not to take part in the electoral process. Their choice has little or nothing to do with political parties. They are just indifferent to politics regardless of whether the leaders elected are doing a good job in office or a terrible one.

To other potential voters, it is a question of not seeing any benefits of taking part in the electoral process. Even though every one of us lives in a certain street or village, the reality of modern life is such that so many of us do not know who the leaders of the streets we live in or the villages we reside in. We have other priorities in life, we have other more pressing matters than knowing these leaders. The only time we might come into contact with them is when some trouble has come our way and we end up in their offices.

There is also the importance we attach to a particular election. What level of significance do people attach to civic polls? That too can explain any degree of voter registration or their turnout to vote. Elections where the incumbent (especially for presidential polls) is running for re-election will most likely attract low turnout whether its registration or casting votes, compared to elections where the line-up of candidates does not include the incumbent. To others it is about transparency, it is a question of trust as to whether they think their votes would make a real difference. If the answer is in the negative, then it negatively impacts their participation, while the answer in the positive has vice versa effect to voters’ participation.

In any case, if voters are “boycotting” to take part in any election while there are no specific calls to do that from any political party, it means that such a “boycott” is not directed at a single political party. It is a collective failure of all political parties and their leaders to capture the imaginations of would be voters.