Ensure electoral integrity to help stem malpractices

In liberal democracies, elections are a fundamental part of the legitimisation of governments and the establishment of a social contract between elected officials and the people. Democracy in this school of thought isn’t just about engaging people in governance but it is also a show of the nation’s strong belief in values of freedom.

Kenya’s democracy has evolved over time, from the days of single party State to multiparty democracy. Kenyans have also evolved in their belief in democratic ideals. We must not take it for granted that in Kenya two people from different political alignment can queue one in front of the other and vote peacefully then go home. The questions that arise are what is it that make our elections messy, is it the people? Is it the number of positions being contested? Is it the election schedule? Is it the electoral institutions? Or is it the politicians? 

The political class the world over is always looking for strategies to win elections. It is the responsibility of an electoral system to ensure infiltration of the electoral body isn’t any of those strategies available for politicians. The political class will always devise malpractices that are within the law to find their way up. Electoral malpractice must be addressed in a timely manner to prevent its spread in the system of governance.

Recently, there has been convergent of thought on the need to stagger elections in Kenya to avoid various electoral malpractices. While doing so may help ensure proper logistical preparations, it however provides an opportunity for perpetrators to find new ways of influencing the electoral outcome. Staggering elections may create new avenues for sanitising malpractices by the electoral body.

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Election laws cannot solve Kenya’s democracy because perpetrators employ various tactics to overcome laws, regulations and practices designed to stop fraud. We need a more holistic approach that involves investigation, understanding and addressing the opportunities for tactics of fraud employed by the political class either through coercion, bribing or other mechanisms.

We should establish a strong electoral integrity system. These electoral integrity systems which could include but not limited to non-governmental organisations, the media, observation groups, law enforcers must be empowered to counter check on the performance of the electoral body.

This should involve allowing the electoral integrity agents to publish independent results of the elections as they are announced. Although this can only be undertaken by the international community through the UN and other multilateral agencies which provides for it, it is also important to at the national level specify the role of observer missions.

Election observation is a valuable tool for improving the quality of elections by helping build confidence of the public in the honesty of the electoral process. Specifically finding a balance between their role in ensuring the elections are done according to law and the thin line of sovereignty/domestic interference which often bring to doubt their effectiveness. The international community needs to redefine the role of observer mission to suit the newly changing electoral environments. For example the use of technology in elections has been widely adopted, its therefore important that observer missions have capacity to interrogate the technical aspects of elections which are more prone for political interference.

The much focus of electoral integrity must be focused holistically around the idea of independence of the electoral body. It is only an electoral body that is independent of political interference that can deliver an electoral integrity that meets the aspirations of democracy. If the elections stakeholders cannot find the answer to this then irrespective of the many laws changed or the many bodies created there will never be proper elections.

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Elections are the highest exercise of freedoms by the people and therefore the manner in which it is handled dictates the principles of governance of the nation. Kenya has come from far, many countries in the region and beyond look up to us. We make a mistake, they copy. We must therefore see our role in cascading the democratic ideals to previously closed societies and make the country proud.

-The writer is an expert on governance and Mandela-Washington fellow. [email protected]

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