Kenyans in the Diaspora will not vote in the next General Election.
The bombshell was delivered to Parliament Tuesday by Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa, who told MPs the decision was reached at last week's Cabinet meeting.
It followed consideration of the preparedness of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to handle the massive exercise of registration of voters locally and abroad, he said.
The government cites logistical, financial and time constraints as the main reason for the setback.
"It is therefore not practical to have them take part now," the minister said.
Already, Parliament has passed rules to guide the registration of voters in the Diaspora. The official number of Kenyans in the Diaspora registered with the various Kenyan Embassies stands at 130,000.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, puts the estimated number of Kenyans in foreign countries at 700,000.
In a statement that caught MPs unawares, the minister said it was not practical to have the population in the Diaspora exercise the voting right as enshrined in the Constitution.
The government decision, the minister said, is based on a landmark ruling by the High Court on November 15 that found that though the right is guaranteed constitutionally, it was not absolute and cannot be realised instantaneously but progressively.
Many Kenyans in the Diaspora were looking forward to registering as voters to participate in the March 4, 2013 General Election.
The government, however, considered that their right to vote will not be realised immediately, citing challenges facing the IEBC.
"Why it was belated is because we were trying everything to empower IEBC, supporting them fully and holding their hands in every way, but for now what they have on their table is already too much,” the minister said.
The Cabinet considered several options possible, including starting with some blocs such as the East African Community, the IGAD or the European Union community.
2017 General Election
It, however, resolved to give the electoral commission more time to make necessary preparations to have them vote in the 2017 General Election.
"It is just a question of practicability of the exercise with the time left. Can we really expect them to carry out a registration exercise for eligible Kenyan voters all over the world,?" he posed.
“It is a question that needs proper preparation, let us get our house in order, let us prepare adequately to avoid a repeat of the 2007/2008 experience. There will be progress that will be made until they are able to participate,” he stated.
The move will dampen spirits given that the community abroad has been assured time and again that it will be able to participate in the elections.
Indeed, several presidential candidates have included the Diaspora community on their campaign schedule reaching out to them in several trips abroad. Aspirants have also set up campaign teams abroad.
MPs scoffed at the news, immediately challenging it. Ikolomani MP Dr Boni Khalwale said the Cabinet cannot make the decision unilaterally and must consult Parliament.
“Before we give an impression to this country that Parliament is supporting the Cabinet decision to deny Kenyans this constitutional right, we must be approached formally. Let us send the minister back to the Cabinet so that the Cabinet comes and formally requests the House so that the Constitution can be protected,” he stated.
The decision comes after the electoral commission indicated that it had set aside 47 biometric kits for registration of voters in the Kenyan Diaspora community
Presidential aspirant Martha Karua said it was heartrending that the Government position comes after Parliament laboured to pass rules regarding Diaspora voting and the arrival of the electronic voting kits.
She said the move amounts to interference with the electoral process and obstruction of the registration of voters.
Githunguri MP Njoroge Baiya said the government does not have an option but to demonstrate an attempt to comply with the constitutional requirement.
“It is very regrettable to wait until the last minute to lock the door on the Diaspora community,” he stated.
The MP said Kenyans in the Diaspora are key stakeholders given that they remit substantial resources to the country.
“They have an interest in how the country votes,” he said, terming the Cabinet decision a retrogressive one.
Ploy to delay next elections
Ndhiwa MP Augostino Neto questioned the move saying it could be a ploy to delay the next elections. He said a member of the Diaspora community could move to court to challenge the decision.
Naivasha MP John Mututho argued that the Diaspora vote could make a difference and it should not be difficult for IEBC to capture details of the eligible voters given that the same is captured when they acquire they passports.
However, Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo said a thorough research will be necessary.
“Don’t just do something just to politically please people. How will we be sure that if you take BVR kits to Washington DC, a Nigerian will not register to vote as a Kenyan,” he stated.
Mr Wamalwa, responding to the concerns, said he was personally saddened by the move given that the government has been assuring its Diaspora family that they will have an opportunity to vote.
However, he said, the decision was inevitable given the tight timelines that IEBC has.
“The credibility of an election starts with the integrity of the voter register. Even in ensuring we have all the 18 million Kenyans registered everything has to be done to ensure that there are not mistakes,” he said.
“It is therefore the position of government that IEBC be given sufficient time,” he stated.