Voter apathy observed in primaries could replay in main elections

Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission personnel wait for potential voters to register themselves at Whispers Ground in Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The recently concluded party nominations were characterised by low voter turnout. The voter apathy was a clear demonstration that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has not engaged the citizenry enough.

The voter apathy in the primaries comes at a time when IEBC has missed its target of 4.5 million new registered voters; it managed to register only 1,031,645 million at the end of its second voter registration exercise in February. The missed registration target coupled with low voter turnout in primaries threatens the legitimacy of the August 9 elections.

It should be appreciated that when a few people participate in elections, the process loses validity and credibility – voter apathy leads to unlawful, unacceptable and illegitimate leadership.

Low voter turnout is a real threat to representative democracy because the polls’ results do not reflect the whole population of eligible to voters.

A decent and acceptable electoral process, as a matter of fact, starts with effective and adequate civic and voter education. Quality civic and voter education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for ensuring free and fair elections.

To make the electoral process legitimate and well-founded, the citizenry must understand their rights and responsibilities. Voters must be sufficiently knowledgeable and informed of the electoral laws and the electioneering process.

Voter education is meant to empower citizens with the relevant information, knowledge, skills and attitudes in order to enable them to exercise their democratic and civic duties.

Everyone will concur that IEBC has failed to conduct effective civic and voter education as recommended in the Post-Election Evaluation Report for the August 8, 2017 General Election and the October 26, 2017 Fresh Presidential Election.

If the IEBC performance is assessed by how the electoral body conducts the polls, then the commission has no option but to organise holistic civic and voter education in the remaining three months – civic and voter education are  necessary to ensure that all voters understand their rights and contests they are being asked to decide.

Civic and voter education gives the populace the knowledge and opportunity to change the world around them. This form of education is critical and equips the ordinary people with knowledge about democracy and the Constitution.

It is the best solution for voter apathy because it assists the citizens to understand that political and socio-economic challenges can be addressed through participation in elections where able leadership is picked to steer the nation.

The electoral body is duty-bound to empower the youth with knowledge on the role of citizens in the electoral process, how to exercise civic responsibility and how to hold government officials accountable.

In sum, voting promotes citizen participation in the electoral process which is one of the cardinal elements for the growth of electoral democracy. Elections foster political tolerance and ensures peaceful transition and transfer of power.

Mr Sossion is a member of parliamentary committees on Education and Labour