Apathy and culture of handouts affect voter registration

POLITICS |

ODM party leader Raila Odinga vouched for voter registration when he met with Mt Kenya youth leaders at the University of Nairobi on October 12, 2021. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Voter apathy threatens to deny the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) 6 million new voters in the ongoing mass registration exercise.

In the ongoing mass voter continuous registration exercise, IEBC was targeting to register at least 4.5 million new voters, yet a week to the close of its month-long registration, it has only managed to list just over 800,000.

This as it emerged that most youths were demanding handouts before they register as voters. Lack of National Identification cards has also been cited for low voter registration.

Even with political parties and their leaders using different tactics to woo the youth, they are reluctant that their vote next year would amount to nothing going by previous trends.

For instance, in the populous Mt Kenya region with over 5 million registered voters currently and now viewed as a swing vote region, new voters have largely shunned the exercise with figures from the IEBC showing that all the counties were below a tenth of the targeted numbers.

But the IEBC envisages a last-minute rush in the coming days before November 4 when the registration exercise is expected to end. 

It was not, however, clear whether the IEBC will extend the mass voter registration exercise given its recent complaint about its budget constraints. 

"I wish to remind voters that only by registering will they be able to exercise the choice of leaders they want in the next term of government," North Imenti MP Rahim Dawood said yesterday.

According to Kiambu County IEBC Elections Coordinator Irene Mutai, the commission is targeting over 354,000 new voters but so far only 25,565 voters have been registered in the populous county.

At the moment, Juja and Thika Town constituencies have recorded a higher number of new voters but only translating to 9.4 percent of the target. Gatundu South has the lowest voter registration turnout.

"We have tried our best and we are urging Kiambu people not to wait until the last minute rush to register as a voter," Mutai said.

Juja MP George Koimburi also attributed the low turnout to the Kenyan culture of the last-minute rush for government initiatives. He urged the youth to encourage one another on the need to register as voters.

“We have some teams on the ground that are mobilizing the youth and new voters to register," Koimburi said.

The exercise has also been sluggish in Ruiru, Gatundu North, Kiambu Town and Githunguri constituencies where most stations have recorded poor turnout.

In Nyeri, by Sunday only 9,545 had registered in the six constituencies out of a projected 104,570 voters.

Figures released by the county IEBC coordinator showed that Nyeri town had registered 2,954 voters of a projected 19,104 which was the highest in the county while Mukurwe-Ini had only 994 new voters out of a projected 12,727.

In Meru and Tharaka Nithi, the IEBC coordinators decried low registration numbers against projected targets.

Meru Coordinator Gichichi Macharia said out of the 162,409 persons they had targeted to register between October 4 to November 2, only 24,279 had registered by October 24.

Macharia said that the low figure represented 15 percent of the target but said the registration exercise would continue at the agency’s constituency offices.

“We will continue (registration) at the (IEBC) constituency headquarters. We ride on National Registration Bureau to register because they issue the IDs,” said Gichichi, reacting to concern by some youth that the issuance of IDs was not as smooth as they wanted.

In Tharaka Nithi, IEBC official Obadiah Gacoki said his office had a target of registering 69,386 persons, but they had managed to capture 6,634.

In Murang'a, the county had by Sunday recorded 11,540 new voters against the target of 126,000 voters.

At the weekend, several politicians including Governor Mwangi wa Iria sponsored roadshows to encourage more to register.

Murang'a County IEBC Manager Joseph Mukewa said there was a need for the leadership to partner in efforts to meet the registration target before the expiry of the period.

In Kirinyaga, only 9,676 of the targeted 113,000 had registered by Sunday.

According to the IEBC county coordinator, Mwea was leading with 3,922 new voters while Ndia had 933 new voters. 

In Mombasa, the IEBC registered 4,486 new voters in the first two weeks of a month-long mass registration exercise.

This represents a paltry two percent of 190,237 targeted by the IEBC. Local leaders have lined several incentives to lure the youth to register.

Some of the activities include games and Swahili food festivals at Makadara grounds, and door-to-door campaigns recently launched by three legislators.

In the six counties at the Coast, the poll body is targeting slightly above 800,000 new voters.

Yesterday Coast leaders also expressed hope that the youth will register.

"We should avoid the last-minute rush. Voting is a very important exercise that ensures we have the right leaders,'' said Mvita MP Abdullswamad Nassir.

Mombasa Senator Mohamed Faki and Jomvu MP Badi Twalib said it was demoralising to see a very low voter registration turnout for Mombasa.

And at the Mombasa Huduma Centre, officials said there are 6,074 uncollected national identity cards, saying they have launched a mobile distribution exercise to reach out to owners.

Centre manager Rehema Noel said they hoped to speed up the collection of IDs with the mobile unit.

"We cannot win with low votes. The youth should collect their national identity cards and register as voters," Nassir.

"We can only have strong negotiating powers if we have numbers. The only way to determine whether we have numbers is through the voter register," said Twalib. 

In Kisii, youths were accused of waiting for handouts to register as voters even as the exercise comes to a close.

Yesterday, The Standard established that majority of the new voters were yet to turn out for registration.

A spot check by The Standard in Kisii established more than 60 youth suspected to have been students from Kisii Polytechnic and Kisii University were ferried to one of the polling stations outside Kisii County headquarters to register as voters.

Each one of them was set to receive Sh500 that they had been promised by an MCA.

Last week, the County IEBC coordinator Sydney Namulungu had warned locals against voter transfer.

Kisii County Assembly Majority Leader Timothy Ogugu said the idea that the youth have to be begged to go register as voters was not only unfortunate but a blow to democracy and the electoral process.

In Nakuru, Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi challenged the youth to get involved in politics by first registering as voters.

He spoke at Ol-Joro Orok area in Nyandarua County during a memorial service of former Nyandarua Kanu chairman Stephen Kimani Gakenia.

Elsewhere, university students’ union officials have also kicked off a countrywide campaign to sensitise students on the need to register as voters.

The drive landed at Kabarak University within Nakuru County on Sunday where students were encouraged to register.

Everlyne Chepchumba, a former student leader and current Rift Valley youth activist said that the youth, including students, must participate in the boardroom of leadership.

At the start of the registration exercise, IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati had called on Kenyans to turn up in large numbers to get registered, noting the commission was targeting to register over 6 million new voters.

The IEBC has continued to miss its weekly target by a wide margin as counties from the vote-rich Mt Kenya region continue to lag in the exercise.

Reporting by Fidelis Kabunyi, Boniface Gikandi, Phares Mutembei, Jane Mugambi Erick Abuga, Philip Mwakio, Daniel Chege and James Munyeki. newsdesk@standardmedia.co.ke

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