A stroke of luck has handed a Kenyan born woman a seat in the Australian Senate after a special recount ordered by a court declared her the winner of a contested battle to represent the state of South Australia.
Lucy Gichuhi, who moved to Australia in 1999 and acquired citizenship in 2001, had lost to Senator Bob Day during the primaries in July last year but the court in February ruled that he was ineligible to be elected.
This set the stage for a recount which took place yesterday.
And at her home in Nyeri, the family is planning a major feast today to mark her victory.
“I want to slaughter that goat for my family so that we can celebrate this achievement,” said Justus Weru, her father who had keenly been following the news from their home in Hiriga village in Karatina.
Since the news broke, the family has acquired some celebrity status as villagers throng their home to get an update of what is going on in Australia.
Vying on a Family First Party ticket, the trained accountant from the University of Nairobi and law graduate from the University of South Australia, was the only other candidate besides Mr Day seeking to represent South Australia, but she lost getting just 152 votes.
However, Australian electoral laws say in case a winner is declared to be unconstitutionally elected, the seat remains in the same party and their votes go to the person who lost to them during the primaries if a recount is ordered and there is no other candidate.
Although the High Court still needs to officially approve the result, Australian media reported that there is nothing that stands in the way of the woman, born on the foothills of Mt Kenya, to becoming the first person of Kenyan descent elected to Federal Parliament.
“Despite polling just 152 primary votes at the last election, the Kenyan-born lawyer, who was Family First’s number two Senate candidate, received enough flow through from votes that went to Bob Day to score the $200,000-a-year position,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), reported.
“The Australian Electoral Officer for SA has provided the result to the High Court of Australia for its consideration,” said The Advertiser.
As a country and the smallest continent on earth, Australia has six states each represented by 12 senators using a matrix dependent on the number of votes that parties get during an election with strongest getting the highest.
The states are New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. Covering 983,482 square kilometres, South Australia is the fourth largest with a population of about two million people.
If Gichuhi is confirmed, she will become the third Kenyan to win a high profile elective seat outside the country and the second person of African descent to sit in the continent’s parliament. Australia’s Health Minister Susan Ley was born in Nigeria.
An ecstatic Mrs Gichuhi had told the media she was nervous as she waited for the results of the special ballot recount.
“Absolutely, yes, I would love to take over as the Family First senator,” she said.
“What I would like to bring is just empowering new and emerging communities and just making them feel and participate as Australians, other than just being in the sideline,” she said.
In 2014, Elizabeth Kangethe, another Kenyan was elected Mayor of Barking and Dagenham in the UK. In 1997 Barack Obama won the Illinois Senate seat before advancing to the US Senate in 2004 and finally as the President of the world’s super power in 2008.
Like Obama, Gichuhi was up to last week fighting controversies about her citizenship with various political forces questioning whether she holds dual citizenship. The Australian constitution bars anyone with dual citizenship from sitting in Parliament.
“Anyone under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power” can be disqualified unless they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to renounce their other citizenship,” it says in section 44.
So bad was the controversy that Kenya’s High Commissioner to Australia Isaiya Kabiria was forced last week to clarify that she lost her Kenyan citizenship when she became an Australian citizen.
“Before we promulgated our new constitution in 2010, anyone who applied for citizenship in another country automatically lost their Kenyan citizenship,” he told ABC.
“As far as we’re concerned in our records, Lucy Gichuhi has never applied for citizenship, therefore, she does not possess any Kenyan citizenship,” he said.