Kenyans shy away from registering to vote

2012-12-11 15:13

Prime Nairobi - Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Tuesday urged Kenyans to register to vote for next year's presidential ballot, with less than half of eligible voters signed up, while tensions rise over concerns of renewed political violence.

The latest figures from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) show that only 46% of the targeted 18 million Kenyans have enrolled to vote, ahead of a registration deadline on 18 December.

Kenya's vote on 4 March is plagued by concerns that East Africa's economic powerhouse will revert to the inter-racial bloodletting that followed balloting in December 2007, claiming more than 1 000 lives.

Odinga, a presidential front-runner, said Kenyans are "failing in a major civic duty and letting our country down" and urged institutions and employers to encourage more participation.

"I want to remind all Kenyans: bad leaders are elected by good citizens who do not vote," Odinga told reporters in Nairobi. "All struggling, failing and failed nations do so because good citizens refuse to engage a leadership that will take their nation forward."

Isaak Hassan, IEBC chairman, linked the low registration to concerns stemming from the 2007-08 inter-ethnic clashes.

"We have not recovered completely from the post-election violence," he told reporters at a press conference. He also described voters as being fearful of registering to vote and cited a lack of registration centres in parts of the country.

Opinion polls

Low rates of voter enrollment are also attributed to political infighting, poor availability of the hi-tech registration kits that Kenya purchased for the ballot, and the difficulty of accessing refugees from the last election's violence.

Election concerns were heightened last week with the formation of political blocs that split Kenya along ethnic lines. Odinga's coalition will challenge an alliance of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who are both accused of orchestrating atrocities during the 2007-08 violence.

The separate trials of Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister, and Ruto, a former education minister, begin at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in early April, just before a potential run-off vote for the presidency.

Kenyatta also urged eligible voters to sign up on Tuesday, posting on his Twitter account: "Get your brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues, uncles and aunts, mothers, fathers and neighbours too to register. Your votes count."

Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, a Kenya analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank, said voter registration was likely to fall below the 18 million target and even the 12.6 million Kenyans who registered to vote in the 2010 constitutional referendum.

"Looking at the opinion polls, we know that this is going to be a very close election," he told dpa. "Low voter turnout will strike at the credibility of the ballot, and make it easier for politicians from any side to say that the election was not conducted fairly."