Saturday, 26 November 2011

Scramble for Votes in the Diaspora

The 2012 General Election will the first under the new constitutional dispensation and it will be historic on many accounts. For the first time, Kenyans in the Diaspora will take part in the elections. It is estimated that there are about three million Kenyans in the Diaspora and out of these three million Kenyans in the Diaspora, it is guesstimated that at least half of them are eligible voters which makes the Diaspora vote a significant voting bloc capable of deciding the outcome of the General Election. The Diaspora voting bloc is unique in several ways though.

There is a lot about it that is not known something which makes it rather unpredictable. Given that this is the first time Kenyans in the Diaspora will be participating in a General Election abroad, there is no data or voting patterns that can be used to produce a definitive analysis of the Diaspora voting bloc. The ethnic composition of Kenyans in the Diaspora for example, is rather sketchy something which is substantially significant given that our politics is characterized by tribal identifications.

But be that as it may, the Kenyans in the Diaspora seem just as passionate about politics as the rest of Kenyans back home. In fact, some even travel back home briefly to take part in General Elections. So far, an unprecedented number of Kenyans in the Diaspora have returned home with serious political ambitions and a couple have even officially declared their interest in the presidency. It is however extremely unlikely even almost impossible for anyone who has been out of the country for a considerable length of time to successfully vie for any elective post let alone the presidency. The point however, is that our people’s interest in politics remains high both at home and abroad. Since this is the first time, they will have a chance to take part in the historic vote right from where they will be, it is expected that there will be a significant number who will take part.

The astute politicians in Kenya have long recognized the significance of the Diaspora voting bloc and they have seized and continue to seize every opportunity to woo voters in the Diaspora. There are at least three politicians who have been keen to reach out to voters in the Diaspora and they are: Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, and Martha Karua. With his unrivalled political stature and buoyed by incumbency advantage, it has been very easy for Raila Odinga to stir interest among Kenyans in the Diaspora and to remain in the public eye even abroad. In his many travels as the Vice president, Kalonzo Musyoka has made a considerable effort. Raila and Kalonzo have the advantage of having their expenses being met by the public coffers and in any case Raila is not a politician of small means. Of the three, for Martha Karua, it has been an uphill task given that she has had to use her own resources and she is not a moneyed politician by any standard nevertheless, she has created an impressive network which will be useful.

The Diaspora voting bloc is uniquely different in that it is a potential source of the crucial campaign finances. Kenyans in the Diaspora are remitting incredible sums of money and a considerable number of Kenyans abroad seem open to the idea of supporting politicians financially something which is very foreign locally. Already, the top contenders are receiving financial backing from their supporters and given the high interest in local politics among kenyns abroad, it is expected that Kenyans in the Diaspora will employ all manner of fundraising techniques in support of their preferred candidates. Those politicians who will have a huge following in the Diaspora, will most certainly therefore receive from their supporters abroad a sizeable war chest with which to bludgeon challengers both at home and abroad something which is bound to reflect on the outcome of the elections in 2012.

The scramble for votes in the Diaspora is bound to escalate in the coming months and it remains to be seen how the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission will supervise campaigns in the Diaspora by local politicians and Kenyans in the Diaspora. This is an area which the Commission needs to give attention lest there be all manner of embarrassing malpractices abroad that will tarnish our image even more. The challenges of supervising campaigns in the Diaspora by local politicians and Kenyans in the Diaspora and the elections themselves are quite enormous especially given the limited resources available to the Commission. Nevertheless, the IEBC needs to give due consideration to this challenge.

Most political pundits foresee a run-off in the forthcoming General Elections and Kenyans in the Diaspora will be a crucial swing vote. It is not possible to establish with a considerable degree of certainty how Kenyans in the Diaspora will vote in a run-off election. It remains to be seen whether Kenyans in the Diaspora will vote on the issues or according to their tribal identifications even though it is expected that voting along tribal identification will not be as pronounced as it is here at home. However, as a principle, whatever makes news and grabs people’s attention is what get votes. The onus is on politicians to reach out the Kenyans in the Diaspora with their message during their campaigns because there is a percentage of voters’ whose choice will be attributable to the campaigns.

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