BOI: Voter apathy; the hidden hand in 2017’s General Election

BOI: Voter apathy; the hidden hand in 2017's General Election

Kenya’s time is well spent and the long awaited General Election are practically around the corner.  Scheduled for Tuesday, August 8, 2017, the expectedly high stake election is now just less than 250 days to go, with some gray areas still eminent.

The ghost of voter apathy could well be a reality taking into consideration previous instances indicating the same.  It is only plausible and imperative that we keep pondering on the voter apathy in Kenya and the effect it might have on the elections and the future of the country.

Following the recent scenarios experienced in elections and the turnout during the ‘mass voter registration’ drives conducted by Kenya’s Electoral Management body, IEBC, more should surely be done to ensure that voter apathy doesn’t ruin the positive gains which have been made in the electoral system.

More than ever before, this remains a seemingly an insurmountable challenge threatening the credibility of the electorate and thus calls for a continuous enquiry into it to ensure that we do not organize elections whose participants are cold and are silently unwilling to take part. Drawing from the recent example in the U.S., most analysts believe that the young people did not go out in numbers to vote their favorite candidate, Hillary Clinton, hence the defeat.

This, could well be true taking into consideration the demonstration that resulted after Donald J. Trump’s win. Basing argument on this fact, voter apathy can elect a good leader or otherwise an undesirable leader, either way, shaping the future of a country. Voter apathy, therefore, is a potential threat to democracy and by extension a great threat to human rights. It is from this lenses that, voter apathy should be treated with the same treatment risk of a rigged election should.

A quick reflection on Trump’s win reminds us need to have a level playground when it comes to the voter apathy. His win had all to do with the voter apathy resulting from ‘boredom of the system’ as was opined by some voters. This was a shocker even to the states whose voting patterns were easily predictable. Despite the request for votes recount by the Green Party for some states such as Wisconsin, it is safe to conclude that, voter apathy was a secret hand in the U.S. Elections.

Now versus future: Selfishness versus inclusiveness

Voter turnout, which is a direct factor of voter apathy is a great deal even in advanced democracies. In the recently concluded US Elections, the turn out hit close to 60% of the eligible voters. This, even though sizeable but not a good bench mark for other economies. The results give the president elect a mandate to serve without fear of being unpopular among the citizens whose mandate he is acting on.

In Africa, voter apathy is still an inherent political menace that needs serious and sustainable fixing. A scenario of Zambia, during the country’s presidential by-elections in December 2014, the turnout was indubitably alarming and disheartening.

In her final remarks, Electoral Commission chairperson for Zambia, Justice Irene Mambilima, noted that the average turnout was about 33%. In some constituencies, out of 33,000 registered voters, only about 8,000 registered voters actually voted. This clearly shows how voters have grown indifferent towards voting.

In its manifestations, as envisaged by the ancient Greeks, democracy meant that people rule themselves through direct personal participation of the citizen body in the government. This will explain why every conscious citizen concerned with the well-being of their lives and that of the future generation, would not tolerate being led by a leader whose election they did not participate in.

Since the extension of the franchise of democracy to Africa in the 2nd half of the 20th century, which was dubbed the century of the common man, the fruition of the noble practice is yet to be stably encrypted to the nations to fully be a strengthening pillar to not only the political system through the electorate, but also to the socio-economic fabric of the nations.

Kenya is definitely on the right path towards economic prowess in Africa, according to the recent World Bank Report on Economic Growth.  However, the same positive momentum hasn’t been exhibited in growing the confidence of the people in the electoral process. The Institutions charged with the responsibility to oversee the process have been held back by retrogressive practices of their predecessors and constant fear of external interference.


The Youth factor

With just few months to the second phase of “mass” voter registration by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) before the certification of the voter register on June 19, 2017, there is need for all stakeholders to engage in ensuring a great turnout in this process. In the recent past, it has been noted that voter apathy is taking precedence among the youth. Incidentally, this is the biggest part of the population that is eligible to vote constituting more than a third of the entire population in Kenya.

Having an estimated growth of 400,000 annually, the young people in Kenya form the largest demographic unit and political constituency. In remorseful reflection on the 2007-2008 post- election violence, various reports have shown the youth being primarily responsible for devastating violence forming 70% of the perpetrators. Notwithstanding the growth in the number of registered voters in 2013 general elections by 57,801, the youth accounted for 49% of the registered voters which was lower than their projected voting cohort of 58% in the total national population. This was quite uninspiring.

Given their large numbers, the youth can decide elections, but why isn’t that the case? In most African countries, and not just Kenya alone, the youth have been perennially unrepresented in polls for reasons that seem too similar. Their frustrations over serious problems affecting their country are imperceptible and perhaps to a large extent justifiable. A young person in Kenya for example, at least for the past two decades, comes of age in an environment he or she finds corruption too rampant and gross that it is rewarded and honesty and integrity being taken as self-sacrifice.

They find that their tax money is not being used for their benefit and that money flows in the hands of those who deal not in goods but in favours. They also find out that the rich in society going into political scenes become richer by graft and that laws favour the rich against the poor. These foes accompanied by unfulfilled promises and other considerations such as regional representation and allocation of resources culminate into voter apathy.

In addition, political illiteracy and clash of priorities among the youth have rendered their interest in political processes wanting and insidiously fading away. There is a wave of naiveté that has swept over the young people making them to deliberately not consider political processes as important to their well-being.


Constitutional obligation versus luxury

A rise in need to meet their financial troubles, acquire jobs and find a place to live and further their studies seems to have taken precedence over this important process. In essence, voter education and civic education needs to be heightened more than ever before to see that the participants in the coming elections are a reflection or a representative of the wishes of the entire population.

By all means, it is a threatening factor to security of a nation, the economy and the legitimacy of the winner in a political process of the elections as the one we anticipate next year if those individuals expected to be part of the decision makers fail to play their constitutional obligations of voting. Back to the 2013 polls, out of the 14,352,533 registered voters, 12,221,053 (85.90 %) took part in the 2013 General Elections but 2,022,196 (14.09 %) did not vote.

Stakeholders in all capacities including corporates and county officials can help bridge this gap through partnered engagements. With relatively peaceful polls largely perhaps because the incumbent was not part of the race in 2013 and Kenyans had learnt lessons from the previous polls, this has not yet fully improved the stability prospects for Kenya. This would largely be fueled by high levels of current socio-economic challenges like corruption and unparalleled political realignment.

As the African Development Bank notes, Kenya still exhibits some fragility that undermines its democracy and development. Therefore, as we head the general elections, the government would need to be keener to address issues of cited high levels of poverty, regional development disparities as well as the high youth unemployment (64%) of the nation’s total unemployment population to bring to life the spirit of civic participation.

In conclusion, as the IEBC endeavours to open doors for the registration of the citizens in diaspora between 10th March and March 24th 2017, the mechanisms to be used ought to be as convenient enough to see to it that the current number of 2,637 registered voters is significantly increased to curb the voter apathy. Also, to work closely with the county heads to rally for improved registration of voters especially in the marginalized areas such as Isiolo, Samburu and Tana River counties which recorded a total of 54,462, 61,114 and 79,454 respectively in the new registered voters in phase one.

Voter apathy, indeed could be the deciding factor, a secret hand in the outcome of the next year’s general elections, a factor which should not be ignored anymore.


The Writer is the CEO, Right Elections

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