The Australian Senate may soon have a woman born at the foot of Mount Kenya as one of its 76 members if a vote recount ordered by a court last Wednesday goes in favour of Mrs Lucy Gichuhi.
Mrs Gichuhi, who migrated to the world’s smallest continent in 1999, has been an anxious woman since the Australia High Court declared that Mr Bob Day, who was elected the senator for the Family First Party in elections of July 2016, was ineligible to vie.
She was the only other candidate besides Mr Day seeking to represent the state of South Australia in the Senate through the Family First Party.
Based on the votes the party garnered, only Mr Day could go to the Senate and the result was tough luck for Mrs Gichuhi, whose dream of being a senator had to wait at least till the next general election.
But now she has a reason to hope. In the Australian system, it is the party that is elected rather than the candidate.
Projections by many — including the country’s national broadcaster — indicate that Mrs Gichuhi is most likely to be Mr Day’s replacement.
When she spoke with the Sunday Nation on phone from Australia on Saturday, Mrs Gichuhi was cautious not to celebrate yet, saying she was more shocked than jubilant, given what Mr Day had gone through.
She said she was yet to cope with the many calls she had been receiving and the spotlight that had all of a sudden been turned to her.
“Since the court decision came out, it has been very hectic. My whole life was turned upside down,” Mrs Gichuhi said.
At her ancestral home in Hiriga village in Mathira East sub-county Nyeri, her kin was prayerful when Nation visited them yesterday.
“We never knew she would engage in politics but we are praying for her goals. She has assisted several families in the village,” Mr Githungo Weru, her younger brother, said.
Shortly after settling in Australia, Mrs Gichuhi said she was attracted by the ideals of the Family First Party, which she said comprises mainly conservative Christians.
At the end of the court case that may hand the Senate seat to Mrs Gichuhi, judges found that Mr Day had been doing business with the Australian government by renting out a house in 2015, regardless of the fact that he had transferred ownership to a family friend.
The judges then ordered a special recount of the votes that had been cast, and the end of that process may see Mrs Gichuhi become one of the 12 senators representing the South Australia state.
It is not clear how soon the recount will be done as Australia’s electoral agency announced that it is waiting for further clarification from the court.
“The AEC [Australian Electoral Commission] notes that the decision requires further directions by a Justice of the High Court. Upon receiving these directions, the AEC will conduct the special count,” says a message on their website.
However, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the government-owned broadcaster, the odds are in favour of Mrs Gichuhi.
ABC quoted Mr Dennis Hood, the South Australia chairman of the Family First Party, saying the outfit was ready for Mrs Gichuhi to replace Mr Day.
“We have a quiet level of confidence, but we also want to respect that there is a court process in play and you know we will respect the decision of the court, whatever that may be in the end,” Mr Hood said.
If kismet stands by her and she becomes a senator, Mrs Gichuhi will be in a position to introduce Bills in the Australian Senate, contribute to debates and vote on motions among other roles.
She said that unlike the Kenyan system where a senator represents a certain region, those in Australia represent a state alongside 11 others.
Australia has six states — Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia — and each state is represented by 12 senators who are chosen by a formula depending on the votes that parties garner during the election.
However, one stumbling block that has come on Mrs Gichuhi’s way is the issue of whether she is actually an Australian citizen.
“Some people still want to argue the matter in court,” she said, clarifying that two years after she moved to Australia in 1999 with her husband and three daughters after winning a permanent resident visa, she became an Australian citizen alongside her family.
The Weekend Australian had to look for Kenya’s High Commissioner to Australia, Isaiya Kabira, to clarify on her citizenship.
Mr Kabira said she had denounced her Kenyan citizenship.
“On the matter of Mrs Lucy Gichuhi of South Australia, our records indicate she has never applied for dual citizenship. We respect her decision to be an Australian citizen,” the publication quoted him saying.
Yesterday, Mrs Gichuhi’s father, Mr Justus Weru Munyiri, said Australian government officials had contacted him to probe her roots.
The officers, he said, wanted a copy of his national identity card and that of his grandfather.
“They also asked for her brother’s ID card and personal details. They also asked when she was born. They also sought family details, all aimed at confirming who she is. They are very thorough before giving her the seat,” Mr Munyiri, 83, said, adding that a lawyer had also been appointed to trace her roots.
Mrs Gichuhi is the firstborn of Mr Munyiri’s 10 children.
She trained as an accountant at the University of Nairobi and worked with various auditing firms in Nairobi before relocating to Australia.
She migrated with her husband, who was then a quantity surveyor but has since become an engineer with Australia’s power distributor.
In one of her campaign videos, Mrs Gichuhi described how she used to walk to school without shoes.