Sabahi (Washington, DC)

24 January 2013

Kenyan Voters Lack Information On Candidates for Local Posts

Nairobi — With fewer than 45 days remaining before the March 4th elections in Kenya, concern is growing that many citizens still do not know much about candidates vying for local seats.

Nairobi residents say that while they feel well informed about the presidential candidates, they have insufficient information about candidates at the local level.

"I am confused," said Anyango Auma, 37, a street vendor in Nairobi's Donholm neighbourhood. "As we speak, I still do not know who is vying for county governor, member of the National Assembly, county women representative, member of senate or civic wards."

"All I have been hearing at the political rallies and other various forums is Raila Odinga or Uhuru Kenyatta for president," he told Sabahi.

Prime Minister Odinga is the presidential candidate for the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy, whereas Deputy Prime Minister Kenyatta is running under the Jubilee Coalition ticket. The two men are considered the main contenders for the presidency in the next election, which ushers in a devolved system of government that puts more power in the hands of local governments.

Lack of information a 'worrying trend':

Under the new re-organisation stipulated by the 2010 constitution, government systems in Kenya's eight provinces will be replaced with 47 county administrations that will act as the second tier of government after the federal authority.

In previous elections, Kenyans voted only for president, members of parliament and councillors (ward representatives). In March, Kenyans will vote for six elective posts: president, senators, county governors, members of parliament, civic wards and women county representatives.

Alex Mung'aro, an accountant in Nairobi, said he did not participate in last week's political party primaries because he had insufficient information.

"My boss gave us a day off so we could participate in the party nominations, but I did not take part because I had no idea [who the candidates were] angling for the parties' tickets," he told Sabahi.

Director of the Institute for Education in Democracy Peter Aling'o called the lack of information among voters a "worrying trend".

"It is very worrisome because an uniformed voter will always make unwise decisions, which is detrimental to democracy and good governance," he told Sabahi. "It poses a danger to the positive gains the devolved government promises to bring in Kenya."

Aling'o blamed the media and government institutions for failing to educate the public about the constitutionally mandated decentralisation of the government.

"The media has been awash with news centred on two presidential candidates -- Odinga and Kenyatta. They have reduced everything to two individuals, making it seem like elections are only about the presidency," he said. "On other hand, the electoral body and political parties have failed to carry out sufficient voter education to empower the citizens on their role."

Adams Oloo, a political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said unless Kenyans are equipped with knowledge about the candidates, election day will be "chaotic".

"This is the first time Kenyans are participating in such a complicated voting exercise, but if they are not prepared well in advance, then they might make errors," he told Sabahi. "Going to elections without knowing whom to vote for will see voters cast their ballot for people they do not know."

"But all is not lost yet," he said. "If a massive voter education [campaign] is launched countrywide during the few remaining days, I am confident Kenyans will learn how to participate."

IEBC: No reason to worry

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chief executive officer James Oswago also said there is no reason for alarm.

He said the IEBC is carrying out voter education in stages to avoid overwhelming the public with too much information.

"There is no reason to worry," he told Sabahi. "In November last year, our voter education was focused on encouraging the public to register as voters. This week and part of next week, our messages are designed to convince them to check their registration status before we can embark on a full-swing education on the seats up for grabs and the functions of those elective posts."

He cautioned, however, that voter education is not the sole responsibility of the IEBC, but should also be carried out by political parties and civil society groups.

On March 4th, Kenyans will select candidates for 1,882 elective posts: 290 members of parliament, 47 senators, 47 county governors, 47 women county representatives, 1,450 civic wards and the presidency.

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