Do not allow criminals, money to ruin our nascent democracy

Ballot boxes and other election materials at Moi Secondary school in Nakuru on March 2, 2021 [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In a representative democratic electoral ideal, election practice plays a spirited and critical part in choosing the people’s representatives to the legislative houses. These August houses help in making laws and providing balanced policies supported by the checks and balances of other structures of governance.

Sadly, in embracing democracy before it developed stable institutions, Kenya, fertilised the ground for criminals to get involved in active politics. A tendency that has acquired thrust as a buoyant economy augmented the rewards available to the winner.

Corruption and unparalleled voter enticement are the order of the day. Thus, there is practically no ceiling to the sums that are poured into the disciplined vice of corruption and domination. A senior government official has now admitted that the democratic process in the country is cruising on auto-pilot.

The official blew an alarm over intelligence inputs pointing out to around 40 per cent of elective seats being up for grabs by criminals banking on considerable bribery and suspicious resources to win political positions. This imminent commercialisation of our politics engenders the ultimate risk, not only in the coming general election but also to our nascent democracy itself.

Such positioning of criminals and their proxies in our political institutions exposes the realm to decadence and coagulates the bond between corruption and poor leadership through possible sustenance of laws and edifices that service criminal initiatives.

The most powerful and overarching observable force in this trend is the money power that controls today's politics and its narratives. Indeed, Kenyan politics has developed into a lucrative investment.

It’s immaterial to emphasise that this is true even with sufficient legislative regimes and structures. The Bribery Act is the overriding piece of legislation in Kenya governing bribery. This mandate covers even the private sector. Ancillary law regulating the infraction comprises the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act which provides for the prevention, investigation and punishment of corruption and economic crimes including bribery.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Act establishes the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission which enforces claims arising from bribery offenses in the public sector.

Other supporting legislation includes the Public Officers Ethics Act which provides for a Code of Conduct and Ethics for public officers and imposes an obligation to file wealth financial declarations; the Directorate of Criminal Investigations established under the National Police Service Act also has wide investigative powers as the principal criminal investigations department. The Leadership and Integrity Act operationalises the Constitutional Provisions on National Values and Principles of Governance.

These regulatory measures apart, money or its kind is rampantly being circulated to influence the voting preferences. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission needs to be freed and empowered with robust and suitable legroom to conduct free and fair elections by safeguarding the hygiene surrounding the election process. The State apparatus being assigned with election duty must, indeed, deal with, curtail or seek to contain the money and muscle power.

With education, literacy has amplified and bettered lives. The influence of digital technology and social media in shaping people’s perception and understanding on elections is at an all-time high. Yet, technology is a necessary evil. The entry of social media has diluted honest politics. The romantic inclination to the sin of sensationalism, fake or paid news has distorted political fair play.

The new antagonist in money has started playing the biggest spoilsport in Kenya’s politics. The integrity of the country’s raucous democracy is under imminent threat of money and corruption. The total amounts presently vital to have a feasible course in Kenyan politics constrict the available pool of candidates. This formula, predictably, emboldens the winners to pursue political office as a prize; an incentive to square debts and favours or to amass a war chest for the ensuing cycle of campaigns.

From the foregoing, several questions arise with natural answers. How concerned will our representatives be about the betterment of the poor whose support they get through vote buying? If our voters become sellers and leaders the creditors, then isn’t our democracy under duress?

This is true for the current cycle of elections witnessing such shameless misuse of money and manpower, that’s positively frightening. All in all, the need of the hour is a rigorous application of deterring legal provisions including barring erring contenders to check the peril of money power in electoral politics. It must never be forgotten that state function is a trust to serve not to rule.

Dr. Nyatundo is an Adjunct Lecturer at the  School of Law, Africa Nazarene University and Visiting Lecturer, at the School of Law, Kisii University.