What if the BBI voting in parliament was by secret ballot?
By Michael Ndonye | May 13th 2021
The BBI voting in the parliament on May 6, 2021, and the Senate on May 12 was done through a roll call voting in line with parliamentary standing orders.
What if it was done by secret ballot? Could we have obtained the same results? I think not. Methinks most honourable members voted the way they did out of fear; some feared Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, and others feared DP Ruto.
When our current political honchos such as Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and Kalonzo Musyoka were either in or were working on joining KANU in 1988, they introduced the mlolongo method for party delegates. It was a public voting method that was later adopted in general elections. Mlolongo had challenges of low turnout, voter bribery and exposed voters to intimidation. The parliamentary roll call voting has similar limitations.
In the Mlolongo system, loud counting was done to voters queuing behind the photo of a candidate or agents just like loud calling and viva voce voting used during BBI voting. Unlike the Mlolongo system, where claims of shorter queues wining existed, the BBI voting was transparent on both houses, and the majority won pretty. Was it transparent from the inside?
We know that from 2018, the earth has been hard for lukewarm politicians — secret voting could have benefited them. Like mlolongo voting, where everyone saw who is for or against whom, a parliamentary poll by roll call exposes political underbellies and nurture political hypocrisy.
It is said that Sam Ongeri, a medical doctor, who is now Senator for Kisii County, validated the mlolongo public voting by saying that “As a medical doctor, I can confirm that this is the best voting system because it saves the patient (politician) from a (possible) heart attack...the secret one has shock!” Cryptic!
Therefore, Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, and William Ruto should thank standing order number 73 for saving them from heart attacks, which comes with secret voting. Only the speaker's election of any of the two houses is done by secret ballot as per standing orders.
During the voting sessions, honourable members in Senate and Parliament had honorary reasons for their voting trends. Some said, “because of more money, I vote Yes; because of extra constituencies I vote yes; to send Raila Odinga to Bondo I vote yes; to send Ruto to Sugoi I vote no; to silence Uhuru's mounting I vote no; to tame Gideon Moi I vote yes; because of extra counties I vote yes; because of the handshake I vote yes; because of mama Suluhu visit I vote yes; because of what I can’t tell I vote no; because of my voters I vote no; because yes is passing I vote yes; because I stand with no, it's no; to avoid pouring my flour I vote yes; because my party leader is no I vote no; because of pandemic I vote no; because of sitting and standing orders I vote yes...” et cetera et cetera.
This public voting has advantages; it eliminates the tensions of political privacy in voting. While secret voting is taunted for protecting voters from intimidation, being bullied or bought, it is 'simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent as envisioned in article 86 of the constitution. But does it nurture or kill democracy? If the voting was done on a secret ballot, could the outcome have been altered? The way you answer this question is your business.
-Dr Ndonye is a Political Economist of Communication
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