SECTIONS

In hope or despair Kenyans must exercise the right to vote, always

A visually impaired man (left) arrives to vote in the compnay of a steward at Orowal polling station in Kacheliba, West Pokot. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

The common thread from the postponed elections held on Monday in many parts across the country is the depressed turnout. Ordinarily, it was expected that coming soon after the end of a hotly contested election on August 9, the turnout would be low, but not so low.

Though there were reported cases of logistical hiccups and pockets of chaos and violence, these couldn’t deter the resolve of the people to pick their leaders through the vote. Granted, at 64 per cent (14 million of the 22 million registered voters, the turnout was one of the lowest in the history of our democracy. Far lower turnout would be expected in the postponed elections as always happen even in by-elections.

Yet despite the poor turnout, this newspaper’s belief in liberal democracy; the freedom to pick a leader from an array of contestants is undaunted. And hence the concern for the low turnout. Does the low voter turnout speak of the voters’ disillusionment with democracy or the outcomes of democracy- their political choices? That they have wearied off a ritual that does not yield different outcomes every electoral cycle.

But do we dare throw out the baby with the bathwater?

Needless to say, the enduring appeal of democracy lives on and that is why this newspaper exhorted Kenyans to get out and vote. We will do so again in the future for the simple reason that elections offer the country a chance for a new start, and renewal. Democracy has given the people the voice to stand up against the corrupt, the wasteful and the autocratic.

To claim that democracy works, even in its imperfect form (like ours), is not hyperbole. It is true; representative leadership works. For Kenya, the experiment with popular government has borne fruit. It is not perfect, but in many places, the voters have risen up and uprooted leaders that have failed to deliver.

And that is the genius of democracy; that we are all responsible for the choices we make at the ballot. Where they have picked the best, they have seen the fruits thereof. The country has for a long time been a beacon of democracy in a region full of authoritarian governments. And this is why we cannot get every registered voter must exercise their right to have a say in the leadership of the country.

Any government’s legitimacy is based on the consent to be governed and this is granted by way of voters casting their ballots.

Despite the government declaring August 29 as a public holiday in the eight areas where elections were not held on August 9, many opted to stay indoors while others went about their businesses.

In Mombasa, people could be seen relaxing on the coastal city’s beaches rather than heading to polling stations as would be expected. While by-elections have historically witnessed low voter turnouts, the stakes in Monday’s election were too high to warrant the disinterest we saw.