It was George Jean Nathan who first coined the phrase that “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote” Nothing can be more truthful. With the Kenyan general elections, less than a week away, the high stakes game has no doubt attracted unprecedented interest, if the intense last minute campaigns are anything to go by.
The two leading presidential contenders are putting in place serious machinery to ensure they register a massive voter turnout in their respective strongholds during the Tuesday plebiscite.
Voting is a democratic and inherent right which we should all be exercising. It is a well-established norm of international law. Significant international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and regional agreements such as the African Charter on Human and People’s rights, enshrine citizens’ claim to universal and equal suffrage. By voting you are making your voice heard and registering your opinion on how you think the government should be run.
The equal suffrage for each citizen world over was never handed on a silver platter. In the U.S, many blacks were intimidated or barred indirectly from voting through legal restrictions and discriminatory practices after slavery was abolished in the 1860s and even after the 1870 ratification of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed African American men the right to vote. (Suffrage was permitted only for men; women were granted the vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920). Despite the constitutional requirement, blacks were prevented from voting in many places, particularly the South, and many were attacked or jailed if they showed defiance or tried to change the system.
In Kenya, political rights are provided under Article 38 of the Constitution. Article 38 (2) guarantees every citizen the right to free, fair and regular elections based on universal suffrage and free expression of the will of the electors for any elective public body or office established under the constitution. Further the right of every adult citizen to vote by secret ballot in any election or referendum is therein guaranteed under Article 38 (3) (b).
Failure to vote though one is eligible is simply a sign of withholding one’s right for unjustified reasons. Even if one were to choose not to vote, still he or she shall have voted anyway. Indeed, Plato the philosopher once observed that one of the penalties for not voting is that you end up with your inferiors as your leaders. The power of the vote as rightly observed by former U.S President, Lyndon B. Johnson, is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.
The Golden Opportunity
The foregoing right which is enshrined in our constitution is no lofty phrase. The right for a citizenry to freely choose their own leaders is the core principle underlying democracies throughout the world. At the end of the day when those leaders elected set policies to address the needs of their voters, a gap in voter turnout from a certain group may mean their concerns have little or no representation hence my concern for the young voters.
Many a commentary has alluded to the golden opportunity the young people have failed to secure in bringing change in the forthcoming elections. Young voters notoriously neglect the importance of voting. Observably, despite their numerical strength, the youth are not enthusiastic enough about coming out in large numbers to vote. Whereas key issues in every election increasingly relate to the concerns of the young voters between the ages of 18 and 35, thus making it essential for members within this age group to be actively engaged in political discourse and processes, its regrettable that such a crucial age demographic has abdicated their ever important role of promoting good governance through their numerical advantage in our political space. Perhaps its important to note that millennials represent nearly 60% of the entire voter population in Kenya today, which makes them the most critical constituency in our political matrix. The more reason why young voters must speak louder in the forthcoming elections.
Since young voters account for nearly half of the total voting population (making them a powerful political force to reckon with), their participation in any election has the potential of being extremely influential in determining the final outcome. In fact experts have most recently predicted that it is merely a matter of time before millennials become the largest and most powerful force in future elections across the globe.
Unfortunately, not all who can vote will, meaning that fewer young people get to directly influence issues that might affect their lives for years to come, including unemployment, easy access to cheap student loans, quality education, etc. Studies indicate that while young people constitute a large percentage of the eligible voting population, they’re much less likely than those who are older to get out and vote. For instance, in the 2016 US elections, only 19% of people aged between 18-29 cast their ballot in the presidential election; at 49%, 45-64-year-olds accounted for the largest electorate in the November polls.
Watch out for PART 2:
By Kibet Kisorio – Advocate.
The writer of this article is a youth and political enthusiast. He’s an advocate of the High Court.
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