The High Court has come to the rescue of people who failed to register as voters by extending the mass voter registration by two days.
The reprieve came as thousands rushed to registration centres across the country to beat the February 14 deadline set by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
Justice Enock Chacha stopped IEBC from closing the registration pending the determination of a suit filed by activist Okiya Omtatah.
“Pending the hearing and determination of this suit, the IEBC is prohibited whether by itself, its officials or any person acting on their behalf from proceeding to give effect to the directive that the voter registration exercise ends on February 14,” ruled the judge.
Mr Omtatah argued that the election laws allow the commission to register voters until two months to the date of a general election, and that ending the registration now would deny thousands of Kenyans still waiting to get national identity cards.
“The decision to terminate the registration of voters five months before the elections is calculated to deny Kenyans three months within which they can register.
There is nothing that can stop them from extending the registration to June,” said Omtatah. He wants the IEBC and the Director of Immigration and Registration of Persons to publish the names of Kenyans who have attained the age of 18 years and have not received national ID cards as well as a list of those eligible to vote but cannot get voters’ card before the deadline.
The activist alleged that there was discrimination in issuing ID cards in areas perceived to be supporting the Opposition, and gave the example of Teso South constituency, where residents protested delays in getting their ID cards.
“Whereas persons in parts of the country perceived to be pro-government are issued with IDs within three days, persons from other regions are denied the cards. The non-issuance of IDs is calculated to suppress many young people who want to participate in the elections,” said Omtatah.
He argued that IEBC’s decision to end the voter registration was unreasonable and in violation of Section 5 of the Elections Act, which allows the commission to have continuous voter registration until 60 days to the elections.
He added that two months was reasonable time for the commission to audit the voter register and undertake other pre-election preparations.
Justice Chacha directed Omtatah to serve the commission with the application and the order before the hearing on February 16.
“We are following the latest developments from the High Court on the order to extend registration. While we are aware of the legal imperatives on voter registration, there are operational and cost implications that we must take into consideration.
We look forward to arguing our case on the said dates. We will also issue a full position on the matter tomorrow,” said IEBC Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba.
The last-minute dash to register generated a frenzy across the country as people queued outside registration centres.
In Nakuru County, the local IEBC deputy co-ordinator, Ephatus Kones, said they had witnessed a surge in the number of voters seeking transfers to other polling stations.
Most of those interviewed urged IEBC to extend the deadline by at least one week.
“My employer decided to give us only two hours to register and then go back to work. I doubt whether all of us will register before the close of business today (yesterday),” said Peter Kairo, a resident of Kaputembwo.
It seems Kairo’s prayer has been answered through the court’s decision.
Ainamoi constituency IEBC co-ordinator Isaac Ruto said the numbers began surging on Monday, when they recorded 1,000 new voters, the highest number in the area since the exercise kicked off on January 16.
In Nyandarua and Laikipia counties, hundreds of people turned out in large numbers to register.
In Laikipia, residents blamed their last-minute rush to escalating insecurity in the area occasioned by illegal grazers who have invaded the region.
However, Bomet County saw a low turnout of people registering.
In Uasin Gishu County, long queues were witnessed at Chepkanga IEBC office in Moiben constituency.
“Typically, Kenyans prefer the last-minute rush. We have witnessed huge numbers from yesterday and the numbers are significantly higher today, which is very different from the first two weeks,” said IEBC officer Luizah Chepkoech.
At Huduma Centre in Eldoret, Kenyans braved the scorching sun to get registered.
“The Government promised that identity cards would be processed in less than a week but I have been waiting for mine since January 31. Today is when the chief told me to come to the centre,” said Daniel Kinywa from Kimumu ward.
The scenario was the same across the Mt Kenya region, where hundreds of residents turned up at registration centres.
But for some residents of Meru and Tharaka Nithi, a shortage of kits led to the low numbers registered.
At the Huduma Centre in Nyeri town, IEBC officials were forced to move their desk to an open field to accommodate the huge numbers that turned up. Most residents wanted their polling station changed.
Coast region also saw huge numbers turning up over the weekend through to yesterday.
There were long queues at Kilifi Huduma Centre, with many voters seeking transfers.
The centre closed at 7pm yesterday due to the numbers that needed to be served.
Chiefs and ward administrators in In Mvita constituency, Ganjoni-Shimanzi ward administrator Luhambi David led efforts to have residents registered.
And in Kakamega County, some residents failed to register because the new ID cards they received from the Huduma Centre had errors.
The story was similar in Kisumu County, where hundreds failed to get ID cards before the earlier deadline.