After registering as a voter recently, a senior government official said that bad leaders are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
Paradoxical as this may seem, it is sadly true.
The Constitution guarantees the freedom of citizens to exercise their political rights through taking part in regular, free and fair elections. In addition, it is a democratic right enshrined in the Constitution for all eligible Kenyan citizens to be registered as voters.
The ongoing voter registration exercise is no doubt a very important milestone in our journey towards the March 4, 2013 polls as successful elections begin with a credible register. Registering to vote will enable citizens to carry out their civic responsibility of electing the country’s political leaders.
Registering to vote will also enable you to participate in the process of strengthening our democracy. Most importantly, registering to vote gives you the power to determine the future and destiny of Kenya.
Voter registration is being done afresh even for those who had registered for the 2010 constitutional referendum. The just published 290 constituencies and 1,450 constituency assembly wards means that people and polling stations need a new realignment.
By the beginning of the third week of voter registration, 6,548,439 Kenyans and been listed as voters. Naivasha Constituency recorded the highest figures at 52,352 while Turkana East had the lowest enrolment with 3,557 voters. These numbers should be higher.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is working under tight statutory timelines and the December 18 deadline will not be extended.
It was gratifying, for example, to see the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Kenneth Marende, encouraging MPs to mobilise their constituents to register.
Political parties should also take the initiative in mobilising the public to register as voters. They are the ones who need the votes and they can’t be elected without the numbers.
Top government officials lead by President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga have also registered and repeatedly made passionate appeals for Kenyans to enrol as voters. This is the spirit we want across because even if IEBC does not meet its target of 18 million voters, we will still conduct elections.
The IEBC faces an enormous task of ensuring a credible election in the face of expanded roles under the new Constitution. Because expectations are high with these elections, the criticisms-some informed and others just out of prejudice- are immense.
There have been misconceptions associated with the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system. Allegations of the machines posing health risks or impotence are grossly misinformed.
From the onset, the IEBC appreciated that its main task was winning back the public confidence in the electoral body as a competent and impartial umpire in electoral contests. The restoration of faith will however not be achieved merely because of new faces. Rather, the commission has to conduct business differently and be seen to be genuinely different in the public eye.
The public sensitisation of the BVR systems before the rollout of the registration helped build confidence and acceptance among voters. If you go into any of the 25,000 voter registration centres countrywide, you will not miss to see the passion and commitment that is steadily making BVR a reality.
The commission has also invested heavily in technology that is intended to promote efficiency and transparency in the electoral process. Evidence indicates that biometric voter registration is more efficient in deterring multiple registrations compared to manual registration.
There were however challenges anticipated as these BVR kits are machines and do not have 100 percent guarantee of performance, but there is no cause for alarm as there are back ups in cases where machines are faulty. There are enough spares and maintenance engineers in the field to minimise down time. Some of the kits were becoming slow due to data accumulation but this has since been solved.
The sensitivity of the data collected in the ongoing registration means it has to be secured. Once individual details are captured by field officers, it is encrypted leaving no chance for access by unauthorized persons.
Each kit has the capacity of registering between 50 and 150 people per day and even if we go by the minimum figure, we are able to net over 18 million voters. But in several places, there is low turnout which renders the BVR kits idle for long hours.
(Mutemi is the IEBC’s Head of Communications and Corporate Affairs)