The national census, scheduled for August 24 could sound the death knell for small constituencies.
Some 27 constituencies that were allowed to exist despite not meeting the population criteria are in the spotlight once more. According to new regulations, the population of a constituency should be a minimum of about 170,000.
And there are fears that given the projected population quota is much higher than 133,138 a decade ago, many more constituencies — more than the 27 — could fail to meet the criteria, while others might merit splitting.
This will again present the dilemma of extending the protection while creating additional units, which would not be desirable at a time Kenyans are clamouring to reduce the size of Parliament.
Various estimates place the country’s population at about 49 million to inform the new arithmetic that renews the argument on whether the “protected constituencies” would continue to exist.
In the prior delineation by the Andrew Ligale Commission, which identified the present constituencies in 2010, the indicative average was 133,138 people.
However, none of the constituencies, including Mvita, Budalang’i and Saku, was scrapped despite falling below the population threshold.
Saku which is in Marsabit County, for instance, had only 46,500 people -a number that is highly unlikely to have increased by more than a tenth.
Lamu East, one of only two constituencies in Lamu County, had the smallest population of under 19,000, but was retained in the wisdom of the Ligale Commission.
What is clear is that the census will inform a revision of boundaries according to the law, though it remains debatable whether the protected constituencies will be granted an extension.
Debate now is whether the 27 protected constituencies should continue to exist despite having small populations. Also, creating more constituencies in densely populated areas essentially redraws the country’s political map.
Ligale yesterday acknowledged that the surge in population will inevitably lead to a higher population quota which in turn may see more constituencies fail to meet their respective quotas.
Asked specifically about the possibility of more constituencies - more than the 27 protected by his commission in 2010 - falling below this basic requirement, Ligale replied: “Most likely.”
He said the reason the protected constituencies could not be deliminated is because they were already in existence, and maintained that all the newly created parliamentary constituencies met the threshold.
“We shouldn’t allow the country to end up with too many constituencies because of the obvious implications, including the high costs. We will need to upgrade the basic threshold to ensure that we only have those that we can sustain,” Ligale said.
He added that Kenyans should remove the protection and go by only those that meet the basic requirement, in a proposal that means mergers.
Implications of merging constituencies include Lamu East existing as part of another constituency, or perhaps merged with Lamu West which was also protected as its population was 82,698.
At the time, the constituencies were grouped into four: cities whose population is allowed at 40 per cent greater than the population quota, rural areas at 30 per cent more, those permitted at 30 per cent less than the population quota and sparsely populated areas allowed at 40 per cent less than population quota.
The 27 constituencies fell below their respective population quotas of 93,196.6 and 79,882.8. They were distributed across regions as follows: Coast nine, Eastern six, Central six, Rift Valley four and Western two.
Politicians from constituencies that are likely to be affected by the review have begun a campaign to mobilise their constituents as we approach the census to be conducted on August 24-25.
The looming loss or gain and realignment of ethnic voting explain why some politicians have publicly expressed their fears over the exercise.
Among them is Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda who has called on his constituents to ensure they are counted, so that minority groups are not disadvantaged.
“The count will be used constitutionally by next year to redraw constituency boundaries with a view to making constituencies have as near equal number of people as possible - referred to as population quota,” said Mr Ochanda.
Speaking at Got-Agulu village in Bondo, Ochanda said that Bondo has an excess of 50,690.
Ochanda, who asked his constituents to think about where the extra 50,000 will go to, said that the neighbouring Alego-Usonga is in the same predicament.
“Budalang’i is likely to disappear because it does not reach the threshold, while Rarieda will be within the quota. As a people, we are seeing the likelihood of the remnants of Bondo and Alego-Usonga getting combined into a new constituency,” he argued.
Ugunja MP James Wandayi, whose constituency is likely to be affected, said that census was important for national planning in resource allocation and representation among other considerations.
“It is a key factor in national development and should be viewed positively and left to be managed professionally for the national good,” said Wandayi, adding that parochial political interests should not be allowed to interfere with the process.
Former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo urged residents to support the exercise.
After the population count, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will realign the borders of Kenya’s constituencies in the lead up to the 2022 General Election.
IEBC is required by the Constitution to review the names and boundaries of constituencies at intervals of not less than eight years, and not more than 12 years.
But any review shall be completed at least 12 months before a general election of members of Parliament.
If a General Election is to be held within 12 months after the completion of a review, the new boundaries will not take effect for purposes of that election.
During the last review in 2012, a constituency was defined roughly by a population quota of 133,138, and if IEBC has to maintain this figure, then the likelihood of extra constituencies becomes high given the current population which is significantly higher than in 2009, during the last Census.
The quota is arrived at after dividing the total population with the 290 constituencies.
But the commission may be guided by the harsh economic realities and thus ease the burden by scrapping some wards and constituencies. Recent reports have indicated that about 30 constituencies — mostly from northern Kenya and Coast regions — do not meet the population quota.
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