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Kenya launches registration drive for August elections

Zipporah Nyambura
January 16, 2017

Kenya’s election commission started a national drive to register voters today for this year's elections. It is the last push for more voters as politicians rally their supporters to sign up on time.

Kenia Wahlen Wählerregistrierung
Image: James Shimanyula

The Independent Electorate and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) kicked off mass voter registration aiming to register at least new six million voters. Already 15.9 million Kenyans have registered, more than the 14.4 million who did so for the last election in 2013.  

Focus is mostly on voters who just turned 18. Any Kenyan citizen over the age of 18 and with a national ID card or passport can register by having their finger prints and digital photograph recorded.

The electoral body is hoping to register at least a 22 million voters for the national polls.

Game of numbers

President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leaders led by Raila Odinga have both made clear calls to supporters to help them win the  election on August 8.

The newly launched Kenya opposition alliance (NASA) had to shelve its planned protests against the new election law in order to give their supporters ample time to register.

Abschlusskundgebungen vor der Präsidentenwahl in Kenia
Numbers are important to winning a Kenyan electionImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

NASA is counting on the new voters - mainly young people - to help them defeat Kenyatta who is vying for his second and final term.

In Kenyan politics, the "Big Five" refers to the main ethnic groups who can influence the outcome of the vote. Among the big-five tribes are Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kalenjin and Kisii .  Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, the largest ethnic tribe, hails from central Kenya while opposition leader Odinga from western Kenya is a Luo.

Kenyatta's alliance with Deputy President William Ruto in 2013 united their respective Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups which had fought against each other in 2007. This helped him to win the last election. However observers have warned candidates against abusing the registration process to win the "numbers game."

Challenges remain

The Chief Executive of the Kenya Independent body (IEBC) Ezra Chiloba complained of financial constraints in the first phase of registration exercise last year which he noted had hindered their logistical capacity leading to a lower voter registration turn out.

"We got only 500 million out of the 2 billion shillings we had put forward for the budget. Which meant less registration kits and fewer officers," said Chiloba.
Opposition leaders have also cited attempts from the ruling party to sabotage registration in their stronghold in Western Kenya by not providing enough registration kits.

Kenia Premierminister Raila Odinga Wahl Präsidentschaftswahll Nairobi Anzweiflung Anhänger Protest
An opposition supporter protests during the 2013 Kenya's electionsImage: Reuters

 "We demand that IEBC carries out a fair, just and transparent registration of voters," Odinga said.

Advocate and elections specialist Kamotho Waiganjo hopes that this time the IEBC will have the logistical capacity to hit its target of registering six million people without any hitches.

"We cannot afford to have an election which is decided by a difference of about 500,000 votes with 10 million people out there who have not voted. That tells you that the content of our democracy is significantly prejudiced," he said.

Tensions are already mounting with the opposition accusing the ruling party of seeking to rig the election after it amended a law allowing for manual vote counting if the electronic system fails.

Waiganjo believes that the IEBC can measure up to Kenyans expectations owing to the lessons from the last two elections and give Kenyans a free and fair election.

Kenyatta won the 2013 elections by a narrow margin of some 800,000 votes. The elections were marred by allegations of voter fraud after the server handling the vote count crashed and results ended up being tabulated manually.

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