Political parties are laying out elaborate plans to convince the youth to enlist as voters when the national electoral agency begins its second and last mass voter registration drive before this year’s General Elections tomorrow.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is embarking on a new mass voter registration exercise on January 17 after a similar one in October achieved just 25 per cent of the six million youth the agency targeted to register.
The commission attributed the low numbers to a disinterested youth population that does not see voting as important, and that presents political parties with a big challenge as the youth constitute a huge part of their target vote bases.
“The youth are not interested in voting,” IEBC commissioner Prof Abdi Guliye told the Senate last month, summing up the political parties’ uphill task in getting the youth vote. “They told us they did not expect any change in their lives.”
For the one month the IEBC rolled out mass voter registration, it enrolled slightly above 1.5 million new voters, increasing the number of Kenyans eligible to vote in 2022 to just over 21 million, up from 19.6 million in 2017.
Yesterday, Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA), Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement and Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC) vowed to turn the tide on voter apathy by conducting door-to-door campaigns, using party structures to encourage listing, delivering uncollected national identity cards, and sensitisatising the masses on the importance of voting as a civic duty.
ODM chairman John Mbadi, who is also Minority Leader in the National Assembly, said the party will roll out a massive civic education programme to get eligible youth to register as voters.
“We want everyone who is eligible in the country to register as a voter because all of them are potential votes for us. We have structures all the way to polling stations and our party will organise our officials across the country to sensitise our people on the need to go and register,” Mr Mbadi told the Sunday Nation this week.
Since the Orange party expects IEBC to conduct registration in every polling station, Mr Mbadi said party officials, right from the grassroots, will be used in mobilising people to register, adding that Mr Odinga’s party will leave nothing to chance in the hunt for votes.
UDA chairman Johnson Muthama, on the other hand, believes the voter apathy was due to loss of hope among the youth.
“From the look of things, Kenyans seem to have given up on electing leaders as they end up not getting what they were expecting, and that is why we witnessed total defiance in the first phase of voter registration,” said Mr Muthama.
He added: “What UDA is doing to change this narrative is to go out and assure Kenyans that there will be change in terms of leadership this time around. And that change will only come in by voting for UDA. If they do not register as voters, there would not be enough votes to bring UDA in power to be able to help them.”
In what seemed to be a move to woo the young people to list themselves as voters come Monday, Deputy President William Ruto, speaking in Eldoret, told the youth that the August General Election will be about voting for their destiny.
“We have a date with destiny On August 9. When you go to the ballot, do not vote for the sake of voting. Do not vote because of your tribe or religion or any other consideration; vote for your interest,” DP Ruto said.
Wiper Party, on the other hand, met yesterday to, among others, strategise on how to weed out the apathy. Wiper vice chairman Mutula Kilonzo Jnr told the Nation they were looking at door-to-door campaigns as a possible solution.
“We will liaise with the IEBC and provincial administration to synchronise our efforts,”” said Senator Kilonzo Jnr.
ANC national chairman Kelvin Lunani said they plan to use the party’s grassroots structures to conduct civic education. He believed there will be better turnout this time around because “the country had not settled” when the IEBC rolled out the last exercise.
“For instance, Raila had not declared that he is running for president and now he has declared his candidature. Those who did not register as voters thinking that Raila will not be on the ballot might now register. Mudavadi has also declared his candidature and those who felt he will join Raila now have a reason to enlist,” he said.
IEBC will also begin registration of the Kenyan diaspora, who form Kenya’s 291st constituency.They are only eligible to vote in the presidential elections.
The commission has added the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, South Sudan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Germany to the list of 11 countries from which Kenyans can register to vote. In 2017, only Kenyans living in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa — 4,393 of them across 10 polling stations — were eligible to vote.
With the voter apathy displayed by the youth who were the main target in the October voter registration exercise, political experts argue that President Kenyatta’s succession might not be determined by the young generation.
“It is clear now that the youth will, after all, not be the main determinants of the winner come next year. Those who are in the race to succeed Uhuru are now going to strategise with real figures and not imaginary numbers,” said Prof Egara Kabaji of Masinde Muliro University.
Political commentator and governance expert Javas Bigambo said the apathy should worry presidential hopefuls as indicates that garnering the constitutional threshold of 50 per cent plus one might be hard.
“Political seduction will be vital to create enthusiasm among the people. Various regions, for instance Western, Central, could be some of the areas that may not register impressive voter turnout,” he argued.
“The failure by IEBC to achieve even 50 percent of projected new voters shows that actual political participation in the 2022 General Election may be lower than hoped for, and further, that political seduction on the part of presidential and other political candidates will be vital to create enthusiasm among the people. Various regions, for instance Western, Central, could be some of the areas that may not register impressive voter turnout,” Mr Bigambo argued.
In the past elections, some of these areas had largely been behind Mr Odinga, but a spirited campaign by the ruling Jubilee Party prior to the 2017 General Election not only increased the party’s numbers in the regions, but also showed that they were potential battle zones given the right motivation and campaign messaging.
In 2017, Mr Odinga garnered 801,031 votes against 287,606 votes of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the six coastal counties.
The region has in October registered 140,913 new voters upping its figures to 1.85 million from 1.7 million in 2017.