Diaspora Kenyans accuse IEBC of betrayal
| December 2nd 2012
By Grace Wekesa
NAIROBI, KENYA: t’s official: One million Kenyans in the Diaspora will not vote in the March 4 General Election, except those in East Africa.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission acknowledged it is a logistical nightmare to list Kenyans abroad. IEBC chairman Ahmed Isaack Hassan on Saturday said the commission only plans to register Kenyans in East Africa.
On Friday, representatives of Kenyans in the Diaspora asked the Electoral Commission to respect the rights of Kenyans abroad to vote. This followed announcement by Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa that Kenyans abroad won’t vote.
“We condemn the decision in the strongest terms possible. The Government is clearly violating our fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the new Constitution. They have demonstrated no legitimate interest compelling to reach such a vague decision,” noted Jaffer Issak, a Kenyan who lives in the United Kingdom.
Speaking to journalists in Nairobi on Saturday, on behalf of Kenyans living abroad, Mr Issak said IEBC had assured them they would participate in the vote, adding that the commission cannot betray their promise.
Hassan said electoral officials would begin registering Kenyans in Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, and Uganda, next week.
It would allow the commission to “test our systems outside Kenya,’’ he added.
But the elections chief said logistical problems and time constraints made it difficult for the commission to list voters overseas on time for the first elections under the new Constitution.
“The first elections are so complicated (and) there is so much to be done,” Hassan said. “We are telling our friends in the Diaspora, please be realistic and let them understand instead of issuing threats.”
National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende concurred the IEBC was burdened but asked the commission to make arrangements in the next elections.
“Registration of voters, going out to the US, UK and Australia is fairly complex. We know that next time you will extend and cover the Diaspora,” Marende said.
They spoke on Saturday in Luanda constituency, Vihiga County, where Marende registered as a voter.
It is a blow to presidential aspirants who have been competing to woo the Diaspora voting-bloc, which analysts had suggested was enough to tilt the scales in a closely contested election.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, and Planning Assistant Minister Peter Kenneth are among leaders who have increasingly turned to foreign capitals to market themselves.
The Elections Act provides that there shall be a Principal Register of Voters, which shall include a register of voters abroad.
Kenyans in the Diaspora have threatened to return to court to compel the electoral commission to register them as voters.
Majority of the voters are concentrated in Western Europe and North America.
Had the commission facilitated the exercise, those willing to participate would have registered at centres that the electoral body had planned to establish in the Kenyan embassies and consulates.
The Cabinet has since ruled that it will be impossible to register Kenyans in the Diaspora.
On Saturday, Hassan said there is a lot to be done registration of voters because the voters’ roll is being built afresh.
IEBC began electronic voter registration 12 days ago and hopes to list 18 million voters. The exercise ends on December 18, to pave way for inspection of the register by voters.
‘’There is much work to be done in Kenya and its best if we concentrate here. IEBC is agreeing with the Cabinet ruling,’’ Hassan said.
“Next week IEBC will start registering Kenyans in Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, and Uganda as the first step in testing our systems outside Kenya,” he said.
The commission, he added, will collaborate with Kenyan embassies to ensure nationals are registered within the specified time.
Hassan appealed for understanding from those living overseas asking them not to rush to court.
Some have threatened to move to court to challenge the Cabinet position that funds were not enough to enable IEBC register them.
They had asked the electoral commission to reject the Cabinet directive.
Those in Diaspora argue that the Government would be violating their constitutional rights to participate in the elections.
Some months ago, Parliament had passed laws streamlining the registration of the Diaspora vote.
The matter caused heated debate in Parliament this week when Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa’s said it would be a logistical nightmare to have Kenyans in the Diaspora register and even vote from abroad.
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