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Lawmakers now seek to allow use of nicknames on the ballot paper

By Patrick Amimo | Nov 1st 2021 | 3 min read
The republished Elections (Amendment) Bill 2021 is sponsored by Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Politicians could have the liberty to include their nicknames on the ballot paper in next year’s elections if a proposed law is passed by Parliament.

In the republished Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021 sponsored by Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina, which is presently before the Senate, the lawmakers are seeking to be allowed to identify themselves on the ballot with nicknames instead of official names.

However, this will be subject to approval by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) upon application by a candidate. The changes could take effect as soon as the next elections if the Senate and National Assembly pass the Bill and the President signs it into law.

Presently, those seeking elective seats and want to patent popular names must swear an affidavit and make it part of their official names.

Those who have so far done so include Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, whose official name was Paul Ongili, former governors Mike Mbuvi ‘Sonko’ and Ferdinand Waititu (Babayao), Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria and Kiambu Senator Paul Kimani ‘Wamatangi’, among others.  

“The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Elections Act, No.24 of 2011 to allow a candidate to be presented to the electorate on party primary or election ballot papers in the way in which the candidate has chosen to familiarise himself to the electorate,” the Bill reads.

The Bill mandates the IEBC to approve the use of a popular name in an election. A party candidate will be required to apply at least 21 days before submission of names to the Commission. For an independent candidate, the name shall be submitted at the time of submission of the candidate’s symbol.

“The commission shall, within seven days of receipt of an application under subsection (2), notify the candidate of its decision in writing,” the Bill reads.

If approved, the IEBC shall issue the candidate a certificate authorising use of the name. 

Deputy President William Ruto has adopted the hustler tag, while ODM leader Raila Odinga is famously referred to by his supporters as Tinga or Baba, among other names.

ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi could also have the chance to use his nickname, ‘Madvd’ should he be on the ballot next year, as Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula could adopt ‘Weta’.

Kieni MP Kanini Kega said he changed his name from James Mathenge Ndungu to James Mathenge Kanini Kega.

“The first time I vied in Kieni in the 2007 General Election, we were three Mathenges and it became difficult for voters to identify which Mathenge they were to vote for. The moment I adopted Kanini Kega, I created my own niche and branded myself,” said Kega.

The law currently only permits the use of a candidate’s official name as it appears in the register of voters and in the candidate’s ID card.

According to Senator Maina, “Name recognition thus becomes an important aspect of a free and fair election and should be enabled to the fullest extent. It ensures that a voter easily identifies his or her preferred candidate on a ballot and therefore votes in the way he or she intended.”

In defense of the Bill, he argues the rigid laws that only require use of official names have condemned many to defeat as many of their supporters only recognise them by their nicknames.

IEBC has, however, faulted the Bill, saying that while the proposal seeks to ensure a voter easily identifies his/her preferred candidate on the ballot, the Elections Act, 2011 provides that the names on the ballot paper shall be as they appear on a person’s identification documents – either the national ID card or Kenyan passport.

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