Voter apathy threatens game of numbers at polls

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021 00:00 | By
A new elector registers at the IEBC registration centre in Mvita sub-county during the ongoing voter registration exercise. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Political analysts have identified several crucial voting factors that will determine the outcome of elective positions in the 2022 General Election, particularly the presidential race.

As candidates construct their manifestos and fine-tune their campaigns, statistics from the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC) mass voter registration exercise have thrown their strategists into a spin.

Unlike the 2013 and 2017 elections when the ethnic-based “tyranny of numbers” factor largely prevailed in tilting the balance (other factors notwithstanding), a youth protest “game of numbers” is complicating the 2022 elections equation.

Youth bear the pain of critical issues confronting us today – economic meltdown, historic corruption, massive public debt, Covid-19 induced livelihood woes and unemployment in a toxic, highly polarised political environment.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was touted to foster national cohesion and heal this festering wound of internal conflicts, electoral injustice and the vicious, winner-takes-it-all mentality every election cycle that thrives to date. 

However, BBI, a victim of these political contestations, was scuppered by the judicial system on legal, constitutional technicalities, leaving the 2022 elections power balance to rotate on ethnicity, regionalism and demographics.

Amazingly, contrary to contestants’ rosy expectations, the youth from whom they hoped to reap a huge demographic dividend at the ballot, have showed extreme apathy to the voter registration exercise. 

IEBC is unlikely to meet a third of the targeted 4.5 million new voters as the exercise ends today. Most targeted youth have shunned the ballot card. 

It is a protest and a direct repudiation of the current political elite wooing them with many vague campaign promises, dangling economic models, jobs and other goodies.

The youth are not buying these empty promises, citing unfulfilled past promises from the very same politicians.

Should this situation prevail right up to election day, the apathy could extend to voter turnout, leaving aspirants to adjust the compass of their political realignments to whip their traditional demographic strongholds into line.

Kenyans can therefore expect to see plenty of horse-trading and rejuvenation of the mostly ethnic-based political parties, with their kingpins consolidating their power and support of loyal allies to secure precious votes.

Such a scenario means that strategists will have to go through the final voter register with a toothcomb, mapping ballot targets dented by the youth protest “game of numbers” factor further compounded by ethnic demographics.

The largest voting bloc in the country emanates from the Mt Kenya region, where pundits concur is unlikely to produce a candidate among the frontrunners, however many they field.

The region is thus expected to play an uncustomary role as the swing vote, hence the intense vote-hunt there.

Despite low numbers of new young voters registered, youth aged between 18 and 35 form a big percentage of the national voting bloc and aspirants will ignore this significant youth bulge and voter base at their own peril.

Pointedly, the youth are quite unpredictable and their heady presence on the campaign trail may not necessarily guarantee they will actually cast their votes.

They are easily excitable to the thrills of campaign rallies with entertaining roadshows and smooth-talking politicians. 

Throw in the open secret of cash handouts to “oil” eager potential voters, combined with the youth protest “game of numbers” witnessed during the registration exercise, ethnic inclinations, economic factors swaying voting patterns… and the race gets complicated.

Ultimately, the final results will depend on the IEBC conducting the electoral process in a free, fair and transparent. [email protected]

More on Features