The IEBC, Kenya’s Electoral body, has been concerned with the measly voter registration turn out and has sounded a warning that its target for 18 million registered voters may not be met. This is worrying on several levels, the most glaring one being that with a small number of voters, the election results are more vulnerable to rejection by the loser. Also the small number of voters would be easier to intimidate, bribe or manipulate because they are most likely the die hard supporters.
A small voters register also signals that the 20 % of the population that have not made up their minds which side to support are likely not registered as voters. This small but vital constituency determines which way the vote will swing and if they are not on the register then the elections will not be decisive and we are likely to have a runoff. This is bad for security, the economy and legitimacy of whomever wins. The few votes would be argued to not be representative of the populace.
That registration for voting is voluntary making it more difficult because it now requires a sustained media campaign for the public to respond.
But why is voter registration becoming problematic in the first place? You would imagine that determining their future and choosing their leaders would be of paramount importance and thus there would be queues at all voter registration centers. The sluggish response could easily be attributed to the infamous concept of African time. We are never in a hurry to do things and it is likely the public expects the deadline to be extended just to accommodate them or they are waiting for the last day to find time from their ‘busy schedules’ and rush to the nearest registration center and do away with this pesky errand.
Another reason could be that there really isn’t that much pressure to change the regime as compared to the last two elections where most people were voting out the incumbent as opposed to voting in a new president. The last elections were hotly contested and this is because it was the end of a bad marriage between the two principals and thus emotions were high.
This time around the dynamics are different with the incumbent leaving office and constitutionally blocked from running for another term. There are no clearly defined agendas or unfinished business between those running for the presidency or other elective posts. It is seemingly just another election where the policies of the runners are more important than the perceived pursuance of historical injustices or discrimination of particular communities.
Its an open canvas and its possible that human inertia is causing the voter apathy. As Mutahi Ngunyi says, the president is likely chosen in a board room by invisible players and the voting exercise is largely for public comfort. The public possibly knows this but would rather comfort themselves with the notion that they chose whomever leads them. The fear of violence as was witnessed in the 2007/2008 elections would also push people to not participate in the exercise and thus grant themselves absolution from the ensuing events and shield themselves albeit futilely from the consequences or proceeds of the elections.
Whatever the reason for the apathy is, the IEBC needs to up its ante lest they are faced with much bigger problems in the coming months.