alexa Why voter turnout in Nairobi by-elections is dropping - Daily Nation

Why voter turnout in Nairobi by-elections is dropping

Friday November 8 2019

Kibra parliamentary by-election

A police officer directs a voter at a polling station, Ayany Primary School, during the Kibra parliamentary by-election on November 7, 2019. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JAMES KAHONGEH
By JAMES KAHONGEH
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Voter apathy in Nairobi is on the rise if the turnout in the last four parliamentary by-elections is anything to go by.

In the city mini elections, areas outside Nairobi, including a constituency in Wajir County that borders Somalia, recorded a surprisingly better voter turnout.

At 63.91 per cent, Wajir West recorded the highest voter turnout yet in all the four exercises conducted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

HIGH NUMBERS

After the Supreme Court overturned the election of Ahmed Kolosho in January, constituents of Wajir West went to the ballot in April. Kolosho retained the seat.

A total of 17, 706 voters cast their ballots, out of 27, 544 registered voters in the constituency.

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Local leaders argued that turnout would have been higher had it not been for the drought that ravaged the county, forcing the locals, majority of whom are pastoralists, to move away from their homes in search of pasture and water for their livestock.

In Ugenya Constituency, Siaya County, a total of 33,936 were cast in the April 5 by-election, representing a 57.99 per cent, the second highest turn-out in the four by-elections. 

Still, this was a 24 per cent decline from the 82 per cent voter turn-out in the 2017 General Election.

The situation is very different in Nairobi, where concentration of voters and polling stations is very high.

Most voters in the capital, unlike rural areas, are also more aware of their voting rights and enjoy wide media coverage.

But Embakasi South by-election, also held on April 5, recorded the lowest voter turn-out in the four by-elections, with only 20 per cent of the registered voters participating in the exercise.

With 150, 814 registered voters spread across 221 polling stations, Embakasi South has one of the highest number of registered voters in the country.

Yet in this by-election, only 30, 750 people cast their votes while more than 120, 000 stayed away.

In the Kibra by-election on Thursday, which was occasioned by the death of the incumbent representative Ken Okoth in June, only 35.36 per cent of the registered came out to vote.

The vote-rich constituency has a total of 118, 658 registered and 183 polling stations in its five wards.

Official IEBC results, however, show that only 41, 984 constituents cast their votes in the by-election.

KIBRA BATTLE

This by-election had attracted a record 24 candidates, and was regarded by many political analysts as a contest between ODM leader Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto.

DP Ruto is said to have used the exercise to assess the in-roads that he has recently made in the city ahead of the 2022 General Election in which he has declared an interest in the presidential seat.  

Curiously though, not even the involvement of the two political heavyweights and their allies could mobilise residents to come out in large numbers to vote.

Presumably, residents of Nairobi are literate, have the higher access to electoral information and the media more than Kenyans in other parts of the country. 

Unlike in far-flung areas where polling stations are located several kilometres apart, voting centres in the city are within fairly short distances.

In the Embakasi South by-election, ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna attributed the low voter turn-out to work engagements among the constituents.  

Some political pundits have also attributed voter apathy to lack of confidence in IEBC and conduct of the polls after claims that both 2013 and 2017 elections were rigged.