Opinion: Voter bribery greatest threat to fair, credible polls

Seasoned journalist Vitalis Musebe PHOTO DAVID NJAAGA/STANDARD}

Elections have come and gone leaving in their wake sweet victories and bitter defeats. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have been endorsed for the second term as NASA flag bearer Raila Odinga and his brigade nurse their wounds. Election observers across the board have unanimously endorsed the exercise hailing it as "free, fair and credible.

" Viewed against the hotly disputed and violent 2007 elections, 2017 polls passed the test of fairness and credibility, at least at the ballot, but the process was as flawed as many past elections in Kenya, thanks to massive bribing of voters. Those who participated in the elections as candidates and voters know just too well how corrupt and fraudulent the electioneering process was.

Of course the international observers, coming only days to the polling and hosted in five and six star hotels were conveniently shielded from the open bribing of voters on the campaign trail. Observers were not witness to the daylight dishing out of money to prospective voters as they headed to polling centres and on their way home after voting.

Neither were the observers present when candidates and their chief agents rounded up prospective voters in homes in the dead of night and bought them outright with hard cash on the eve of the vote. But Kenyans know just too well that these elections were a massive theatre of bribery and fraud. Hardly a single politician in this country who participated in the 2017 polls will swear by any form of oath not to have bribed a voter.

Voter bribery is certainly the most pervasive form of voter manipulation that Kenya has faced since the return to multiparty democracy in 1992. From the days when political leaders who visited State House left with briefcases full of free handouts, the culture of manipulating voters through nefarious forms of bribery have come full circle.

Having been a participant in the elections as an independent candidate for the Webuye West Parliamentary seat, I have no doubt in my mind in equating the just concluded elections to a huge nation auction in which victory largely went to the highest bidder.

Shielded from any form of campaign funding and expenditure audit, candidates with deep pockets literally bought their way into elective leadership. On the campaign trail in villages, seekers of political office became instant targets of all forms of fundraising. Even church offering turned in special offering as politicians turned churches into rich hunting grounds for votes.

On the roads and footpaths, villagers raised one hand in expression of support while the other hand was always extended in the direction of the pocket. They simply demanded money regardless of their support for your candidacy or lack of it.

Rowdy youths often blocked roads and only gave way when money changed hands. It reached a point when my campaign was forced as it were to always carry Sh50 notes that came to acquire the nickname of "gate pass." You had to carry the gate pass to get you out of hostile and uncompromising youths blocking our way.

Whether we admit it or not, election fraud through voter bribery remains the biggest challenge to Kenya's hope of nurturing and sustaining a truly credible election in which leaders are chosen on the basis of merit and not monetary inducement.