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Delaying election results is uncalled for

COLUMNISTS
By Edwin Sifuna | May 31st 2015

In Africa it is rare for a presidential poll to be held on schedule and results thereof announced promptly. Delays and postponements are the order of the day. In fact, it takes days and sometimes in excess of a week to announce the results of presidential elections.

The sad irony is that a lot of taxpayer money is spent before elections to acquire ostensibly fool proof technology that should in theory not only prevent rigging but also ensure prompt announcement of results. The story of delayed election results is so common that one begins to suspect that the problem is not with the technology but rather with the user. There seems to be an obstinate insistence on playing the game with the old rules.

We, as Kenyans, would be pretending if we could not find sufficient examples in our own backyard of how not to run elections. But in the interest of perspective, let us look at some of the recent elections held in Africa within the last one year.

In the general election held in Namibia on November 28, 2014, the African continent saw the use electronic voting for the first time.

While the results should have been out hours after the close of voting, the Electoral Commission of Namibia initially planned to release the results the following day. Predictably, this did not happen.

Theo Mujoro, Director of operations at the Electoral Commission of Namibia, said the commission found “mathematical errors” in the results from some constituencies.
“The problem primarily is that, from the returns that we received from some of the constituencies, we have detected some mathematical errors and what we have been doing is that we are contacting the returning officers so that they may provide us with the sole document for us to ascertain and effect the necessary corrections,” Mujoro said. This sounds like something we have heard before here in Kenya.

It took three days for the commission to announce results which could have been announced within hours. So much for electronic voting.

This year, Nigeria held the most expensive election in Africa ever. Yet the story was familiar. Despite adopting technology to prevent voter fraud, voting had to be extended due to technical problems with electronic card readers. The then incumbent President Jonathan himself failed to be accredited by the card reader, which was telecast live on national television.

The results were announced on March 31 while the election was held on the March 28. Again, the same pattern of undue delay.
Not surprisingly, delay causes anxiety and tension to build up.

In Nigeria, the opposition, which would turn out victorious, claimed that the delay was occasioned by attempts to rig the vote.

Whether that was the case or not, the lesson to be learnt here is that it is best to announce the results promptly and preferably in real time.

While this is in theory understood and appreciated, it is in reality rarely put into practice.
Which is why the Okoa Kenya initiative seeks to enshrine in our Constitution the specific protocol for the prompt announcement of election results.

Because cheeky returning officers have been known to delay counting presidential ballots in favour of lower contests, it specifically provides that the counting and announcement of results shall be in the order of presidential, senate, governor, women representative, members of national assembly and members of the county assembly.

The Referendum bill also seeks to ensure the electronic transmission of results will be real time and that they will be announced publicly, through a video-link and beamed to the public through at least three accredited television stations.

Once the current lot is thrown out, these proposals alongside others in the electoral reform package will, in the hands of a reformed Electoral Commission, enable and ensure a far more transparent and efficient electoral process.

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