Diaspora Will Only Vote For The President
Kenyans in the diaspora will only be allowed to vote for presidential candidates in 2012, IEBC chairman Ahmed Issack has announced. They will not be able to vote for MPs, senators, or governors. However voters in Kenya will be able to pick six candidates in the first election under the new constitution. They will vote for president, MP, governor, senator, women representative and county representative.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Issack was talking at Brooklyn town hall in Minnesota yesterday. The IEBC is currently on a week-long tour of the United States to share views with the diaspora on registration and voting. At a later stage diaspora voters will vote in referendums. If that is successful, they will then be allowed to participate in parliamentary and senate elections.
Issack said embassies and consulates will act as polling stations while ambassadors and their deputies will be hired as returning and presiding officers for the independent commission. Ambassadors are arbitrarily appointed by the executive and many are ex-politicians who have been of immense help to the current system. Some analysts question how independent they would be as returning officers.
Article 83 of the constitution sets only three conditions for Kenyans to register as voters. They must be adult citizens, of sound mind and have no conviction for an election offense in the preceding five years. The article says administrative arrangements for registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall not deny an eligible citizen the right to vote or stand for election. Article 82 however says, “Parliament shall enact legislation to provide for the progressive registration of citizens residing outside Kenya, and the progressive realization of their right to vote.”
Issack urged all Kenyans living abroad to register with their embassies. He assured the meeting that their information will be kept confidential. “We don’t care if you are an illegal immigrant here. We know some of you came here as students and are doing all manner of things now. All that we are saying is that if you have a passport or and ID, then register with our embassies so that you can vote," he said.
Many Kenyans abroad cannot home because their visas have expired, particularly those in the USA. It is estimated more than 3 million Kenyans abroad remit close to Sh100bn annually to the Kenyan economy. Issack said the ongoing reforms in the judiciary and police are a sign that the IEBC will deliver free and fair elections. He vowed that Kenya will no longer be used as an example of a country that holds poor elections.
The IEBC acting CEO James Oswago told the packed hall that Kenya’s proposal was inexpensive unlike India which requires its citizens to return home to vote. Most of those at the meeting said they would prefer to have polling stations in strategic locations across the USA instead of travelling to Washington DC or New York to vote.
The IEBC believes it will be a challenge to complete voter registration in time because constituency boundaries are still being delimited. The IEBC has so far registered 12.4 million voters but is targeting 8 million more. “It means that some voters will have to be transferred to the polling stations of their choices when the exercise is over.
Yet waiting for the boundaries to be determined first before embarking on voter registration, could mean delaying the publishing of the voter register and subsequently elections,” Issack said. All voter registration must come to an end 90 days before elections. Voters will be given 90 days to inspect the register and confirm their details. So voter registration must be completed six months before the elections.