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Kenyan aspirants scramble for diaspora vote

Posted by Administrator on February 19, 2012

Photo/FILE Kenyans living in the United States on March 9, 2011 during a demonstration outside the UN headquarters. The US has the highest number of registered Kenyan voters.

Photo/FILE Kenyans living in the United States on March 9, 2011 during a demonstration outside the UN headquarters. The US has the highest number of registered Kenyan voters.

Presidential aspirants are making unprecedented efforts to secure votes of Kenyans living outside the country in the belief that they could be crucial in winning the contest for State House in the forthcoming General Election.

Leading aspirants have opened offices in key cities such as London in the United Kingdom, New York and Washington in the US and Johannesburg in South Africa in their determination to tap the vote, which could tilt the results for President Kibaki’s successor.

The scramble for the external voters comes as a government team to craft the rules and regulations guiding Diaspora voting — one of the new provisions in the Constitution — burns the midnight oil to ensure that Kenyans out there play a role in the choice of the next leadership.

“The team (government task force) is working overtime. We want the report to be ready by the time the boundaries team (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) has completed its work. We want diaspora voting to start with a bang,” said Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo on Sunday.

Kenyans in the Diaspora, who were hitherto only courted for campaign financing, were given the right to vote for the first time ever by the new Constitution. (READ: Diaspora want assurance they can vote)

Many not registered

Even though the IEBC estimates there are as many as three million Kenyans abroad, less than half of them are registered with embassies and consulates, according to figures from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

With 600,000, the United States has the highest number followed by the United Kingdom (300,000), Canada (60,000), United Arab Emirates (46,000), South Africa (40,000) and South Sudan (20,000).

And with opinion polls predicting a tight race for State House, the parties and candidates are stepping up efforts to gain the support of this vote. (READ: Kenyan diaspora a resource to be harnessed)

Immigration and Registration of Persons Minister Otieno Kajwang’ last week said registration centres will be opened in London, Washington and other cities to give ID cards to Kenyans who have turned 18 so that they can be issued with voters’ cards.

Alternatively, he said, they could also use their passports to register as voters.

Key presidential aspirants have been forced to factor the the Diaspora in their campaign schedules by making frequent trips abroad and appointing point people to popularise their presidential bids.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is also ODM party leader, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper Democratic Movement), Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (Kanu), Martha Karua (Narc Kenya) and Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth who hopes to vie on a Kenya National Congress ticket, are among those seeking to benefit from the Diaspora vote.

Mr Odinga has  appointed Mr John Maina in his campaign secretariat to coordinate Diaspora campaigns. So far, the PM’s team has opened offices in the US, UK and Australia.

Mr Musyoka, using his past network as the Foreign Affairs Minister, has been active in the Diaspora.

He has opened an office in London and when he attended the African National Congress’s centenary celebrations last month, he met Kenyans living in Johannesburg in preparations to open an office.

He told them: “Let your vote count this year …it’s the year of the defining moment for our country.”

Sources in the Kenyatta camp said he had opened up to 17 offices in  US and European cities with fully operational secretariats.

Other offices are being set up in South Africa, Australia and the Middle East.

Campaign infrastructure

During the same ANC festival, Mr Kenyatta extended his stay in South Africa by five days to set up campaign infrastructure.

Mr Munyori Buku, the DPM’s spokesman,  said Mr Kenyatta had been in regular contact with Kenyans abroad.

“It’s a virtual constituency. You can get to them even without meeting them physically through Facebook, Twitter and websites,” he said.

Mr Ruto and Ms Karua have both toured the US and UK seeking link people to coordinate their campaigns.

Belgut MP Charles Keter, an ally of Mr Ruto, said: “We have people who are preparing offices in the US and in London.

“They will be up and running at the same time as we open URP offices countrywide here,” he said.

Mr Peter Kenneth, who  is currently on a 10-day campaign tour of the US, has appointed a  Minnesota lawyer, Mr Henry Ongeri, to head his campaigns there.

Mr Kenneth says the Diaspora votes are crucial but candidates can also tap into their influence on relatives back in Kenya.

Prof George Saitoti, the PNU aspirant, has opened offices in Washington DC and London, according to Mr Peter ole Sapalan, who works in his campaign secretariat.

A law lecturer-cum-political analyst Kipchumba Murkomen said the Diaspora vote is crucial but will not be easy to get.

“They need a lot of convincing to get their support as the majority of them focus on issue-based politics,” Mr Murkomen said, adding that no serious candidate can afford to ignore the Diaspora given its size as it could act as a swing vote.

Mr Kariuki Wachira, a pilot who has lived in the US for 20 years, said the Diaspora voters would be looking for untainted non-tribal leaders regardless of party affiliation.

“We want a leader who can change government operations and clean up Parliament,” he said. Mr Wachira called for the formation of  a ministry for the diaspora to take care of their interests.

He said many Kenyans in diaspora have been having problems managing their finances and properties in the country as the government does not protect them.

He said he was swindled of an aeroplane he had bought for Sh30 million and a plot he bought and developed in Nairobi.

“There’s no one to protect our investments. We undergo a lot of frustrations,” he said.

Properly supervised

Mr Murkomen said the diaspora vote needs to be properly supervised to avoid fears of rigging especially if  embassy staff will serve as returning officers.

Lands minister James Orengo has also asked that the number of overseas Kenyans eligible to vote be made public to avert rigging.

IEBC secretary James Oswago said the electoral body had been liaising with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get statistics on the exact number of Kenyans living abroad and their distribution. Kenya has 47 embassies and consulates around the world.

“The challenge now is coming up with one unified legal framework to apply to all Kenyans whether in South Sudan, Australia or in US to vote,” Mr Oswago said.

IEBC hopes to register eight million new voters, both from within the country and in the diaspora before the next elections. There are currently 12.4 million registered voters.

Last year, IEBC said it was preparing a Bill that would allow Kenyans in the diaspora to vote through the Internet.

Source: http://www.nation.co.ke/News/politics/Kenyan+aspirants+scramble+for+diaspora+vote/-/1064/1331022/-/item/0/-/5a7xj8/-/index.html

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