Politicians solely to blame for apathy among potential voters

Friday February 10 2017

A centre for registering people to vote in Kiritiri, Embu on January 25, 2017. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A voter registration centre. Kenya's electoral law allows voters to choose where they register. FILE PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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Politicians have been crisscrossing the landscape urging, cajoling and in some cases even forcing Kenyans to register as voters, but relatively few of the latter seem to be listening. As a result, there is extreme disquiet among seekers after high office. If presidential or gubernatorial contenders cannot raise the numbers they hoped for in their strongholds, they naturally feel despondent. After all, winning elections is about numbers.

And numbers do not lie. Less than a week before the closure of registration, the IEBC has listed just about a third of those it targeted. It sought to register 6.1m new voters, but by Tuesday this week, it had only managed 2,164,184. Even if by this morning the figures will, as expected, be a lot higher, the outcome can only be described as dismal.

This failure cannot be solely attributed to the IEBC, though, judging from some comments making the rounds, this possibility cannot be ruled out. It seems electoral commissions are the most convenient scapegoats when things do not go according to plan, but short of forcing people to register at gunpoint, there is only so much that any commission can do.

Many commentators have speculated on this issue of apathy, going as far as to suggest that youth, and those who have never bothered to register in the past, are generally pissed off with the government over unfulfilled expectations. Others are coming up with the idea of making voting mandatory. If a lawmaker can suggest that a cure for lethargy is to force voters to cast ballots, then the extent of desperation becomes clear. Ours is still a democracy and such hare-brained ideas have no place in our polity.

MAKE SENSE

A better idea, and this is not original with me, is to ensure that everyone gets a vote while acquiring a national identity card. Indeed, it still does not make sense why voter listing cannot be a continuous process though, understandably, keeping thousands of idlers on the payroll for years would be a very expensive undertaking. Still, it can be done if an office in every county headquarters is kept open all year round, manned by one or two people who should also be doing other duties.

What potential voters are actually suffering from is negative attitude which makes them unwilling to do their civic duty. The other day, I tried to persuade some youths in my village to register, but they floored me with one question: what’s there in it for us? That is how much we have corrupted our electoral process. Even when I told them that the only way they could elect the most capable MCA or MP to represent them, they asked: those that we elected, what have they done for us? I could not answer those questions. To my mind, what the youths are suffering from is actually not lethargy but apathy – total indifference. Despite the exhortations of their leaders, they do not have any enthusiasm for the mundane act of listing, which means they are unlikely to have any for the voting itself. If nothing changes, this year is going to have the lowest number of voters since the reintroduction of multi-partyism.

FAIT ACCOMPLI

This brings me to the other reason potential voters are balking. For too long, political formations have presented them, quite unwisely I think, with a fait accompli. Those in the ruling party have told us they intend to maintain the status quo until 2032. The question is, if they are that confident, why should voters bother queuing?

On the other hand, the Opposition keep saying they have already been rigged out while at the same time insisting they have created a juggernaut called Nasa which will sweep Jubilee off its feet and bury it by 10am on August 8. These contradictory messages must be confusing potential voters. Is it any wonder there is so much apathy in the counties they control? If they have already won, why should voters bother? And if they have already been rigged out, again why bother?

And then there is ennui. Day after day, voters are swamped with allegations about the iniquities of their government. True or not, a constant recitation of those “evils” can become quite tiresome. My contention is simple: through such antics, politicians have created conditions for self-fulfilling prophecies, and voters have more urgent things to do with their time like seeking ways to feed their families.