Memories of election violence in Kenya five years ago are still fresh and organisers of the March poll are anxious it should be a peaceful exercise in African democracy, but low voter enrolment is causing concern.
Voter registration for the upcoming election in Kenya on March 4, 2013 ended on Tuesday December 18, after a period of one month during which eligible voters were urged to sign up.
DW correspondent James Shimanyula reported from the Huruma registration center on the outskirts of Nairobi that many residents had turned up on the final day to be registered by clerks using biometric kits despite the heavy rain.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said on Sunday (16.12.2012) that 12.7 million Kenyans had enrolled, far fewer than the target of 18 million. A last-minute surge in registrations was not expected to push the figure far beyond 13 million.
The Kenyan High Court declined on Tuesday to issue orders to extend the period of voter registration and at the same time ruled that prisoners would not vote in the poll, local media said.
Poor leadership, democratic rights
Earlier Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a presidential frontrunner, said Kenyans were "failing in a major civic duty and letting our country down" by not registering to vote.
He went on to say that "bad leaders were elected by good citizens who do not vote."
The message was taken up by the online version of the Kenyan paper Daily Nation which said in an editorial on Tuesday that failing to vote was the surest way to "sanction poor leadership, forfeit one's democratic right, and undermine reforms."
Kenya's upcoming election is plagued by worries that East Africa's economic powerhouse could revert to the inter-racial bloodletting that followed balloting in December 2007 and claimed more than 1,000 lives
Isaak Hassan, IEBC chairman, linked low registration this time round to concerns arising from that violence. "We have not recovered completely from the post-election violence," he said, describing some voters as being fearful of registering to vote.
Election concerns have been heightened by the formation of political blocs that split Kenya along ethnic lines.
Odinga's coalition with Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka will challenge an alliance of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who are both accused of orchestrating atrocities during the violence in 2007 and 2008. Kenyatta and Ruto are to go on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in early April, just before a potential run-off for the presidency.
The election campaign has been accompanied by intermittent grenade attacks on civilian targets, blamed on al-Qaeda-linked Shabab militants, whom Kenyan forces are fighting in neigboring Somalia. These attacks have raised security concerns ahead of the election.
Abdullahi Boru Halakhe is an analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank. He says low voter turnout will strike at the crediblity of the ballot and "make it easier for politicians from any side to say that the election was not conducted fairly."