By Moses Njagih
President Kibaki became the first Kenyan to register to vote using the new electronic system even as four million adults look set to be locked out of next year’s elections.
The Head of State virtually sealed their fate by urging the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) not to extend the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) beyond its December 18 deadline.
It is also emerging that only a small percentage of the four million Kenyans lacking IDs might have actually applied for the important document, despite the State waiving a Sh300 fee per application.
The National Registration Bureau, the generator and custodian of IDs, maintains it has no more than 150,000 applicants waiting for the documents in its database.
It also says many applicants are yet to pick their cards from various centres around the country, putting their number at 322,000.
However, The Standard has reliably established that many applicants have to wait for at least three months to get their identity cards, despite the bureau’s claim that it has the capacity to churn out 50,000 IDs a day.
By registering to vote, Kibaki officially launched the exercise countrywide and also kicked into motion the countdown to the March 4, 2013 General Election, the first under the current Constitution.
And the Head of State warned that the Government would protect the electronic voter registration at all costs.
“Whoever you are, you must not even have an iota of imagination because we will take that action, however tall, short or even fat you are. If you want to try it, do it early and you will see,” warned Kibaki.
His warning came on the day three soldiers were gunned down in Garissa and the critical business hub of Eastleigh in Nairobi endured a second day of ethnic clashes following the bombing of a matatu on Sunday.
Kibaki said Kenya can ill afford to allow those bent on disrupting the process to have their way as this would be interfering with the rights of Kenyans to elect their leaders.
He said the Government would deal firmly with any forces bent on jeopardizing the electoral process at whatever stage, adding that Kenyans must be granted their right to vote peacefully.
“Do not seek to be forgiven for any mischief. Nobody has even the remote right to stand in the way of any Kenyan. There is no need to mess up with elections when we want to exercise our individual rights,” said the President.
His caution came amid fears expressed by the IEBC that the emergence of organised criminal gangs in the country could hinder the success of the March 4 polls next year.
The IEBC chairman Mr Ahmed Issack Hassan singled out Coast Province, where people believed to be part of the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) tried to disrupt the voter registration as it kicked off in the area, before being repulsed by security officers.
The President also appeared to have in mind the recent attack and killing of 42 police officers on duty in Suguta Valley by suspected bandits, as he said police must not be hindered from performing their duties.
“...I warn all Kenyans against obstructing the work of security officers or endangering their lives in any way. Those who obstruct our officers will have themselves to blame as they will be dealt with firmly and in accordance with the law,” said Kibaki.
He urged Kenyans to register to vote as part of their civic responsibility to elect leaders of their choice, including his successor.
But he warned that the exercise will take strictly one month and that there would be no extension owing to the tight timelines the electoral body is facing.
“There is no room for you to pretend that you were registered once upon a time, and even if this happened, all eligible voters need to register afresh, as this is the only way you would be able to take part in elections,” he said.
Kibaki added: “Unless you do the real thing (voting) there would be no need for shouting”.
The President’s stern warning over security came even as Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa pleaded with the Government to suspend the planned disarmament in Baragoi, Suguta Valley expressing fears the move could force area residents to flee their homes, making it difficult for them to be registered.
Wamalwa revealed he had presented a petition to Kibaki asking for the suspension despite the recent killing of 42 security officers in Suguta Valley by heavily armed cattle rustlers.
Failure not option
Residents in the area fear that disarmament and the security crackdown could lead to their displacement, said Wamalwa.
Hassan said the IEBC is yet to set a date to register Kenyans in the Diaspora and is still in talks with the Foreign Affairs Ministry on how best to go about such an exercise.
He noted that the commission is keen to ensure that the next elections are successful, assuring Kenyans that the BVR kits now in use are of the best in terms of security and accuracy.
“Africa and indeed the world are looking at us. Failure is not an option and I believe we will make it,” said Hassan.
He warned those planning to engage in double or multiple voter registration that the security features in the BVR kits would easily detect them, leading to their prosecution.
Hassan reiterated that those holding ‘waiting cards’ after applying for ID’s cannot be registered, to vote as the slip is not legally valid for the purpose. Only a national ID and a valid passport can be accepted by the IEBC.
He asked the President to intervene to fast track the issuance of IDs to many youths who might be locked out of the elections.
The IEBC boss said in a bid to ensure more people register as voters, the commission will set up BVR kits in supermarkets and other strategic points in urban centres to operate up to 7pm.
He said the kits have the capacity to capture the visually disabled voters, which would allow the commission to make special arrangements on how such people would be assisted on Election Day.