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Battle for millions of new voters as registration starts

By Rawlings Otieno and Wilfred Ayaga | February 15th 2016

Rival coalitions are back in the trenches mobilising young supporters to register as voters.

The youth are expected to join the list of millions of new voters that the electoral body seeks to recruit in the February-March registration window that opens today.

Political parties preparing for next year’s elections are pushing to ensure nine million new voters are listed before the big race. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is targeting at least four million new voters as official data shows there are at least nine million eligible voters.

As of December 2014, the National Registration Bureau had issued 23.8 million national identity cards yet only 14.4 million are in the voters’ register. Perhaps this explains why the two main coalitions are each targeting to have 3.4 million new voters listed.

While the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) led by Raila Odinga is seeking to beat the “tyranny of numbers” cited to have led to its loss in the 2013 elections, the ruling coalition wants to increase its numbers through a strategy that has seen its leaders troop back to the grassroots to lead the voter registration campaigns.

Distribute Kits

Yesterday, leaders and officials of major political parties spoke out on their strategies to whip their supporters into line so as to enhance their chances in the race. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee is to offer his candidacy for re-election with his deputy as running-mate and probably, according to their agreement, the 2022’s candidate for the ruling coalition.

Leader of Majority Aden Duale said Jubilee was working on increasing its numbers in its strongholds and in Opposition-dominated areas. “It is the function of IEBC to register voters, but as Jubilee all our supporters and candidates will take the opportunity to register.”

He added, “Currently, Jubilee has 11 million voters. We want to register 3.4 million voters in the current exercise, so that by 2017, we have over 14 million voters for Mr Uhuru Kenyatta. All our MPs, senators, MCAs and supporters are on the ground to whip our supporters. We are happy with the progress, and I’m sure that during this exercise, our people will come to register.”

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Director of Elections Junet Mohammed said the Opposition was active on the ground and that CORD-affiliate parties had been mobilised to ensure that members respond at the grassroots.

Over the weekend, Raila and his co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula appealed to CORD’s new supporters to register in big numbers. “Leadership is taken not given, we must therefore prepare by registering as voters,” Raila said.

The party has been complaining IEBC had not been fair in the distribution of voter registration kits. The electoral commission responded to its claims of discrimination in distribution of biometric voter registration (BVR) kits by making public a formula used to allocate the kits.

“We have talked as coalition parties and everybody is on the ground. Our target is 3.4 million voters. However, we are still not satisfied with the manner in which the BVR kits were distributed. We have constituencies with more voters being given less BVR kits compared to those with less voters,” charged Mohammed.

Wiper Democratic Movement Secretary General Hassan Omar said the coalition was alert and, “will not be caught flat-footed in the current registration”.

CORD governors have been asked to mobilise people to register for the elections, he said. “We have agreed that governors will be doing launches across the country. We must keep the momentum high, up to the grassroots levels. At the end of the month, we will review the progress and adjust our strategies based on the feedback we get from the ground,” said Omar.

Castigate Referee

The current exercise, according to IEBC, will also involve transfer of voters who are already registered but wish to change their polling stations, and verification of the register for already registered voters.

IEBC Chairman Issak Hassan will flag off the exercise at the Pumwani Social Hall in Kamukunji constituency. The elections body is targeting at least four million voters in the current exercise that will run for 30 days. It, however, targets over 20 million voters by 2017.

The electoral team projects that by the next election the potential voting population will be 25.7 million, meaning there would be at least 11 million eligible voters to be brought on board. And since April 2014 IEBC has registered 156,000 new voters across the 290 constituencies.

In 2012, IEBC registered 14.4 million voters against a target of 18 million in a potential voting population of 22.5 million.

In the last elections, Raila garnered 5.8 million votes against President Kenyatta’s 6.1 million votes. The Opposition blamed their defeat on, among other issues, low registration numbers in its strongholds.

According to Jubilee, the Opposition has already “sensed defeat” in the next elections and the current voter mobilisation “is an exercise in futility”.

“CORD is already preparing it supporters for defeat, that is why they keep on castigating the referee. We will give IEBC all the necessary resources to conduct the elections. In my own constituency, the number of BVR kits has already been increased from seven to 14. What CORD is doing is their own business,” said Duale.

The National Alliance Secretary General Onyango Oloo confirmed that jubilee was already mobilising its supporters to register. “Jubilee is not sleeping in sensitisation of its supporters to register as voters,” said Mr Oloo.

IEBC has been blamed for lack of preparedness in the current exercise. Other than its handling of the distribution of kits, it is also struggling to bridge its electoral budget ahead of the elections.

“We agreed with the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee that we meet in two weeks to discuss funding of the electoral budget,” said Ezra Chiloba, chief executive of the elections body.

Ahead of the registration, the head of the CORD Secretariat Norman Magaya said IEBC was not clear on how it distributed voter kits.

“We saw what happened in 2012 during the voter registration and we shall not allow potential voters in our strongholds to be disenfranchised again. IEBC must tell us how the kits will be moved from one station to another,” said Mr Magaya.

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