The Star (Nairobi)

15 January 2013

Kenya: How Muslim Vote Will Tip the Balance On March 4

opinion

On Sunday January 13, 2013, the Muslim Leaders Forum (MLF), to which I also serve as the Secretary General, issued a press statement to explain why they support the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) championed by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, and Trade Minister Moses Wetangula.

In the statement, MLF acknowledged that the March 4 General Election will indeed be a two-horse race-- a contest between hope on one hand, and uncertainty on the other.

MLF said that Cord espouses the aspirations of majority of Kenyans, Muslims included, for good and sound leadership. Most importantly, Cord represents a leadership that is committed to the full implementation of the new constitution, which Muslims actively campaigned for during the 2010 referendum.

Cord's competitor, on the other hand, is dominated by a leadership that vehemently rejected the new constitution. In this regard, there are no prizes for guessing why MLF has openly supported Cord.

But the question posed by skeptics after we issued the statement is-- do MLF have the numbers to make a difference in the forthcoming polls? Indeed, this is a very valid question when one looks at the demographics of voters in Kenya.

Muslims are a significant minority scattered all over Kenya, and during normal political contests, they rarely vote as a bloc and that is why their vote is often seen as inconsequential.

However, during 2007 General Elections and the 2010 constitutional referendum, Muslims voted overwhelmingly as a block because both the plebiscite and elections were issue based.

After the 2010 referendum, MLF confidently concluded that Muslims can vote as a bloc if an election is issue-based. In the 2013 polls, MLF has realised that despite our politics being dominated by personalities, there is still an issue that stands out above everything else-- the implementation of the new constitution and pursuit of reforms.

MLF consulted widely and came up with a report showing that majority of Muslims would support a leadership that is committed to the new constitution-- this is how MLF, which comprises Muslim scholars, elders, Imams, businessmen, youth and women leaders, professionals and grassroots opinion shapers, arrived at a decision to support the Cord alliance.

MLF has, however, made it clear that it does not impose its choice on all Muslims because we know and understand that there are Muslims who support other coalitions and we respect their democratic right to do so.

Instead, MLF has pledged to use its in-house resources and organizational capacity to persuade as many Muslims as possible to support and vote for Cord. And to the question about whether MLF has the numbers to make an impact-- the answer is in the affirmative.

After decades of marginalization and near exclusion from the mainstream political and development agenda, the Muslim community has, in the recent past, asserted itself to a point where it is now proving to be a critical voting entity ahead of the March 4 General Election.

Elections are a game of numbers, and Muslims have the numbers to make an impact on the forthcoming polls. In terms of statistics, Muslims account for 10 percent of Kenya's population -- meaning that the community numbers about 4 million according to the 2009 national census. A figure contested by Muslims and other marginalized groups in Kenya.

Although four million looks insignificant when compared to Kenya's 40 million population, the situation is different when Muslims are looked at from an election perspective.

According to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) figures of listed voters as per December 18, 2012 when the voter registration exercise ended, the total number of voters for the March 4 elections stands at 14.3 million.

Although it may not be practically possible to say how many of the 14.3m are Muslim, an analysis of voter demographics according to regions gives one a rough estimate of how many Muslims are registered voters.

There are seven counties, which can safely be said to be Muslim-dominated-- these are Mombasa, Kwale, Tana River, Lamu, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera. According to IEBC figures, the total number of registered voters in these seven counties is roughly 1,058,529.

But Muslims are also scattered across the country, with significant numbers found in Kakamega, Busia, Vihiga, Nakuru, Eldoret, Homa Bay, Kilifi, Nairobi, Muranga, Nyeri, Kitui, Embu, Machakos and Kisumu.

When these numbers are added to the ones in the seven Muslim-dominated counties, Muslims could, give and take, account for about 2.3 million of the 14.3 registered voters.

Indeed, 2.3 million votes is a very significant figure in a tight election such as the one we expect on March 4. If the Muslim vote was consolidated and cast as a bloc, especially if the elections are issue-based, then the presidential candidate or coalition that receives this vote would have a significant head-start against his or her opponents with regard to Article 138 (4a) of the constitution which states that; a candidate shall be declared elected as President if the candidate receives more than half of all votes cast in the election.

Apart from being a game changer as a bloc, the Muslim vote could also prove critical in the coming polls in terms of meeting the requirements of Article 138 (4b) which provides that a candidate shall only be declared as President if he or she receives at least 25 percent of the votes cast in each of the more than half of the 47 counties.

With close to 2.3 million votes and dominating about seven counties, the Muslim community has, therefore, emerged as a significant electoral bloc that could prove to be a game-changer. Therefore, no one should underestimate the importance of Muslims in the electoral process.

The Muslim Leaders Forum understands the importance of Muslims in the electoral process and that is why we are calling upon our brothers and sisters to cast their lot with the Cord alliance because of the commitment this alliance has shown to the implementation of the constitution.

The writer is the outgoing CEO of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance and Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).

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