Voter apathy grips central Kenya as Uhuru readies for tour

President Uhuru Kenyatta starts his tour of Central Kenya counties Monday amid fears of voter apathy in the region that backed Jubilee to a man in 2013.

The President was holed up in a meeting with close advisers and some members of his Cabinet from Friday to evaluate progress of completion of projects before next year’s elections.

But from tomorrow, the team starts a four-county tour of Central in Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Laikipia and Nyeri.

He will also open markets, dams and roads in the three counties.

The President and Deputy President William Ruto were meeting in Sagana State Lodge for brainstorming sessions over the upcoming elections.

Unlike previous Cabinet retreats, the Sagana meetings were only attended by no more than five Cabinet Secretaries whose dockets are directly connected to what the duo believe will be key to victory in the election.

A source indicated that the retreat is the biggest in terms of strategy and could only be compared to when they met to select the Cabinet.

“The meeting will be about elections right from campaigns, nominations and government projects key to Jubilee success,” a source said.

The issues that the President and his deputy believe will be key to a first round win will be youth, energy, health, transport and land.

Senate Majority Leader Prof Kithure Kindiki and his counterpart from the National Assembly Aden Duale also travelled to Nyeri.

Line Cabinet secretaries were instructed to be in Nyeri during the weekend and each will face the two to give updates and receive instructions on how they will run the ministries.

REASON FOR APATHY
By virtue of his docket, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery was present in Sagana to update the President on pre-election security preparations.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto will also be laying the ground work for party nominations and holding Jubilee Party together.

They will be deliberating on the best way to conduct nominations as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission dithers on conducting nominations.

“There is so much focus on party nominations but people forget that the party will have to present names to the electoral commission for special seats, that will also be on the agenda as the President would like to avoid last-minute rush as happened in 2013,” a source said.

But the vexing political issue is fear of voter apathy in his stronghold as elections loom.

This feeling was aptly captured by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria during a debate in a vernacular Kikuyu station on Thursday:

“Please stop talking about how you will not wake up to vote. You need Uhuru as your president more than he needs you,” Mr Kuria said.

During the 2013 elections, turnout in most counties in Central was over 93 per cent, enabling Jubilee to avoid a run-off by a margin of 0.5 per cent.

It is this margin that the President’s supporters want protected if not increased.

But the lack of enthusiasm was shown during this year’s registration of new voters when Central region trailed others in the number of new voters registered. In 2013, it was the highest.

Politicians are attributing the apathy to a feeling that Jubilee has already won the 2017 elections and thus Central voters may not be needed at the ballot box.

WORRIED LOT

There are also fears of nominations being rigged, dissatisfaction over slow pace of projects and poor returns on cash crops such as coffee, rice and tea.

Hundreds of youth and women’s groups who received Uwezo and Youth Fund cash and used the money to apply for tenders have not been paid yet they are required to repay the loans.

“Despite the President making orders that we get paid, files have disappeared and only reappear when a bribe is given.

“Yet we keep hearing reports that people are paid in days. It has been one year,” said one of the groups that did not want to be named for fear of victimisation.

But the victory perception is what worries Jubilee mandarins most.

The talk of 2022 has made voters in Central assume that 2017 is a foregone conclusion.

Pundits are comparing the 2017 polls with the 2007 when turnout in Central was 67 per cent and President Kibaki barely scraped through.

A governor from the region who did not want to be quoted, said that if turnout in 2017 goes down by even two per cent, there will be a runoff.

Our people have enthusiasm during transition elections when their man is vying for the first time like in 2002 and 2013.

INCOMPLETE PROJECTS

But they think a second term is a foregone conclusion and that is what led to low turnout in 2007. We are hoping it won’t happen in 2017.

Kieni MP Kanini Kega said Central region voters will still show up at the ballot box.

“Our people need to know that the only vote that counts is the one inside the ballot box. They thus need to not only register but also vote. We will make sure they do,” Mr Kega said.

The President will be opening a Sh800 million market and building of roads and dams in his constituency tomorrow.

Gichugu MP Njogu Barua and Nyeri Woman Rep Priscilla Nyokabi say that what the Central Kenya voters need is presence by the President and completion of projects that are long overdue.

“We just want rice imports stopped, the coffee sector to be reformed, tea prices to go up to improve lives of our people,” Mr Barua said.

Ms Nyokabi cited some projects like Karatina market which has not been completed in 10 years.

The fallout over Jubilee nominations is also driving those fears.

Previously, candidates would vie on different parties but support President Kenyatta.

The different candidates would thus mobilise their supporters to show up during election day thus boosting the presidential tally.

But this may not happen if there is only one candidate under the Jubilee plan thus suppressing the presidential vote.

It is not helped by the way politicians who will spearhead the presidential campaigns in Central were picked.

“As long as Jubilee uses IEBC to conduct nominations, it may not lead to apathy or fallout,” said Ms Nyokabi.

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