Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Voter education can avert chaotic polls

By OGONE J. OBIERO

More than 10 million Kenyans have been registered in preparation for the General Election to be held on March 4, thanks to the spirited mobilisation by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Next in line, is addressing the problem of whether those who will vote are familiar with the new voting circumstances and procedures. For starters, several things have changed; the polling stations will open later and close earlier than happened during all previous General Election.

Secondly, voters who may need assistance will be faced with six rather than three trips to the booth.

Third, the ballot paper itself is likely to be a mess — sometimes featuring a party logo alone, sometimes a party logo alongside an alliance logo, and sometimes an alliance logo alone.

Last but not least is the mind-boggling list of contestants. In fact, ballot papers in some areas will bear two pages.

The IEBC will probably retort that these problems are addressed in the voter education manual whose launch actually took place sometime in October 2012. However, we probably only heard about the exercise taking off in Huruma and Mathare in Nairobi.

Even so, their campaign seems to have focused on the need to turn up on voting day rather than the new voting circumstance and the procedures that go with it.

So, we ask: Who will educate voters? When will that happen? Where will it happen? And how will we know if voters benefit from the education, all before March 4?

The same October last year, the IEBC vice-chairperson said the commission would open ward-based voter education forums to be coordinated by constituency election officials. Did this happen? If so, in which wards did it happen?

I ask because the IEBC website is not of much help. Presently, all the PDF documents uploaded there display “unable to connect to the database”, including the voter education manual and voter education accredited providers files.

Even more confusing is how IEBC plans to deal with vetting the nominated candidates. As we witnessed from the concluded party nominations, vetting is something easier said than done. Already, some candidates changed party tickets at the eleventh hour in protest of the vetting procedures of their parties.

Others who were cleared to contest, proceeded to win the vote, but were denied the party nomination certificate because they had integrity issues arising from the nomination process. It is therefore hard to figure out exactly how the IEBC will approach this vetting nightmare without precipitating chaotic scenes on the eve of elections.

Should a nominee be found unfit to run, for instance, there will be no time for recourse by the affected party. No amount of explanation will cool the tempers that will flare among the supporters of such a candidate.

Dr Ogone teaches linguistics at Bondo University College (obby3@yahoo.com or ogone@daad-alumni.de)

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