Compulsory voting good for our democracy

Deputy President William Ruto votes at Kosachei Day and Boarding Primary School in Turbo Constituency, Uasin Gishu County on August 8, 2017. [File, Standard]

Kenyans have long complained about how their elected leaders lack positive moral and intellectual qualities. 

The common rejoinder is that leaders are a moral mirror of the society because they are picked from the many citizens.

Going by the 2017 voter roll, less than 20 million citizens registered as voters. We have learned from the recently conducted national census that we are a country of 47 million people. That means that a good number of people of voting age are not enlisted as voters.

Among the registered, only a fraction turned out to cast their vote on Election Day.

In a country where one needs just a plurality (majority in the case of presidential election) of votes cast to assume political office, genuine questions are bound to arise regarding the legitimacy of our democracy.

Can we really say that democracy is thriving when so many people either don’t register as voters or don’t vote when they register? Dambisa Moyo, the renowned Zambian-born and Oxford-educated economist, presents what she calls the blueprint for a new democracy in her latest book Edge of Chaos.

Dambisa proposes mandating voter participation as one of the reforms that will strengthen democracy and guarantee higher quality policy-making. With compulsory voting, public officials will constantly be reminded that they are accountable to all citizens, not just the most politically active.

Policy decisions that run this country would be made by true representatives of all people, not a select group of people.

The middle-class, which is the biggest driver of democratic change, has a notorious lethargy when it comes to participating in elections yet they are the ones most likely to exercise objectivity when making electoral considerations.

When they stay away, the result is often the triumph of poorly-schooled but moneyed drug-dealers who bribe their way to power. Forcing everybody to vote would ensure that crucial a constituency gets to offer its much-needed objective appraisal of the candidates thereby driving up the likelihood of obtaining better policy-makers.

A smaller and narrower electoral base can lead to a more corrupted electoral process. By creating the broadest possible base, mandatory voting maximises the quality of democracy and makes it more efficient.