On 8th August, 2017, Kenyans head back to the polls to express their will through the ballot in the periodic general elections. The presidential election that has been described as a neck and neck battle pitying the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main challenger, Raila Odinga.
In Kenya, just like other African democracies, the ability to conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections has always been put to question. Many of the electoral processes have been marred with violence, intimidation and other impediments aimed at subverting the will of the people and influencing the outcome of the polls. In majority of presidential elections pitying incumbents, the incumbents have not only been less willing to relinquish power, but have also used state resources and machinery to set up a vote-rigging infrastructure to enable them cling to power. However, if the recent outcomes in the presidential elections in Gambia, Nigeria, and Ghana are anything to go by, where the incumbents have been floored and conceded, could point out to an evolving ability to conduct free, fair, and transparent elections.
What amounts to a free, fair, and transparent election?
According to article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives . . . .,” and that, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
Though the article sets no threshold for a free and fair electoral process, basic consensuses have been established to set the bar. On the one hand, a free electoral process has been described to be one that offers all the citizens the opportunity to have access to the polling station and to vote. In addition, freedom of expression by the candidates and the electorate, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly must also be protected in law and in practice to meet the minimum threshold of a free election. On the other hand, a fair electoral process has been described as one based on universal and equal suffrage; where every citizen has the right to vote with no discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, physical disability, sexual orientation, or their level of education.
The Kenyan constitution and established electoral laws put in place all indicate that Kenya has undoubtedly met all the set thresholds for a free and fair electoral process. Free and fair elections are not the only features of a good election, but also the transparency of the entire process. For the post-election democracy to work, the electorate must be willing and able to accept the poll results. This brings the issue of transparency which determines whether the results will be acceptable or not. Transparency is the integral part of a good and credible election and for the post-election democracy to thrive. In absence of transparency in the process: results may not be accepted: and a possible post-election outbreak of violence is imminent. On whether Kenya is capable of holding a transparent election can be argued further. I harbor grave doubts on this.
A brief History of Kenyan Presidential Elections
The first multiparty elections were held in 1992, where the then incumbent president Daniel arap Moi won, garnering 36.6 % of the total votes cast against Kenneth Matiba who garnered 25.7 %.
In 1997, the country went back to the polls, the incumbent Moi won with a sweeping 40 % of the total votes cast against his closest challenger Mwai Kibaki who garnered 30.89 %.
In 2002, Kenya was said to have had the most credible and transparent election in history where the incumbent never contested opting to retire. President Mwai Kibaki won the election to become the third president of the republic of Kenya, garnering 61.3 % of the votes against Uhuru Kenyatta’s 30.2 %.
Then came the disputed 2007 election which was flawed with vote-rigging claims and fraud. The outbreak of the post-election violence shook the democratic foundations of the country and almost crippled the economy. The incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, was declared the winner by the electoral commission against his challenger Raila Odinga. EU observers in the country refused to declare the elections to be ‘free and fair’ citing irregularities in the process. A grand coalition was thereafter formed in an attempt to quell the violence that had severely wrecked the country.
In 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta won the election with a whooping 50.07 % of the total votes against his main challenger Raila Odinga who settled for 43.7 % of the total votes cast. The results were however challenged by Mr. Odinga in the Supreme Court, which later upheld Kenyatta’s victory.
The 2017 Election
Analysts have described the 2017 presidential election as a ‘rematch’ between the front runners in the 2013 general elections, that is, Uhuru Kenyatta (incumbent) and Raila Odinga. With just six days to the election, the two leading opinion poll companies in the country have both released their final poll results which tend to be conflicting. The Infotrak poll has put Raila in the lead with 49 % against Uhuru’s 48 %. Conversely, Ipsos poll has put the incumbent in the lead with 47 % against his main opponent’s 44 %.
In the view of the above, it is evident that the stakes for the 2017 presidential election are in deed very high. The winning candidate must garner 50 % plus one vote to be declared the winner according to the new constitution of 2010. It has been described a ‘do-or-die’ contest for both the incumbent who will be seeking to retain power to avoid going down in the history of the country as the first incumbent to defeated in his re-election bid, against his 72 year old challenger who will not be eligible to vie in the next general election due the age limits set by the constitution.
In their assessment, the EU observers in the country have raised the red flag signaling a possible outbreak of violence after the polls. While the incumbent has made numerous declarations that he would accept the outcome of the polls, his main rival has not made such, citing attempts by the government to influence the outcome of the polls and a lack of transparency in the process. He has instead initiated a parallel tallying center for the presidential results and calling on his supporters not to leave the polling stations after casting their ballot, which according to many is a recipe for chaos.
The recent murder of the ICT managing director of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has, however, put the country back in the spot light a few days to the polls. Speculations about a sinister motive of the murder further exacerbates the problem questioning the country’s ability to hold a free, fair, and above all transparent electoral process void of intimidation.
The social and economic consequences of a post-election violence are grave, and Kenya has had her taste of these repercussions. Peace and stability before, during, and after the election are vital for the Kenyan democracy to advance. This will be solely dependent on the willingness of the two main contenders to embrace the results by the independent electoral commission and challenging the results through the right institutions as opposed to street protests. Whether Kenya will avoid the conventional post-election crisis and prove her critics wrong will be determined in the aftermath of the polls on August 8.