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Lend them your ear but ignore the lies and vote wisely this time

People queue at Kamirithu polling station in Kiambu to vote on October 26, 2017. [George Njunge, Standard]

It goes without saying that the main focus of the August elections will be on two alliances; Azimio La Umoja and Kenya Kwanza. Azimio comprises Jubilee and ODM, including other smaller parties, while Kenya Kwanza comprises United Democratic Alliance (UDA), Ford-Kenya and Amani National Congress.

The One Kenya Alliance (OKA) made up of Kanu, Wiper and United Democratic Party can easily become the third major alliance, but its leadership seems undecided on whether to go it alone or join either Azimio or Kenya Kwanza, notwithstanding that the clock is inexorably ticking towards election day.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), in keeping with constitutional timelines, has not officially declared the campaign period open, but the major political alliances have nonetheless been on undisguised campaigns for months.

The most notable thing about the campaigns so far is the lack of strategic messaging and recourse to ad hominem. Each camp concentrates more on what the other is saying, thus engaging in a futile war of words to the point of losing focus and dwelling on irrelevancies. That, inadvertently, could end up in disillusionment and voter apathy.

Previous researches on political campaigns returned the verdict that developing persuasive messaging, using the media and concentrating on target groups puts an aspirant in better stead, thus increasing the chances of winning an election. Social media platforms provide a handy and free medium through which candidates can effectively reach the electorate, but instead, it is being underutilised, even abused to spread falsehoods and malign opponents.

It, therefore, makes sense to ask; have the candidates been persuasive enough in trying to convince voters why they should give them their votes? It is not enough for leaders to simply tell people what they intend to do once elected. That is the easy part, but unfortunately falls short of being a credible campaign message.

The believability of a campaign message is tied to the integrity of the person giving the promises. What values do the candidates hold dear? What does their past say about them? One of the issues that have repeatedly featured in the ongoing campaigns is the spurious promise by candidates that they will magically improve the economy; put money in the pockets of ordinary citizens and create millions of employment opportunities for the youth.

But, have the candidates demonstrated they can deliver such promises through deed and word before? The frontliners have held political offices for decades. What do they have to show for it? Do they have legacies they now wish to build on to ascend to the presidency?

The answer to this question might be no, but politicians know that money liberally dished out during campaigns induces momentary amnesia in the electorate.

Free, branded campaign T-shirts, caps and the occasional cash handouts have a way of confusing voters, but that is one snare voters should endeavour to avoid if we must escape the interminable cycle of recriminations about leaders who do not deliver.

So far, issues articulated in political rallies have been about matters that presidential aspirants think are important to the people, not necessarily what matters to the common citizen.

There has not been any persuasive message other than generalities dictated by the candidates’ belief in what they think the public wants to hear from them.

While some of what is being promised resonates well with the public, clearly, there are no mechanisms of implementing the promises. For once, voters should ignore the lies and vet aspirants carefully before voting for them.