Sad state of our democracy and what can be done to revitalise it

A woman protests in Kibra on August 15, 2022, soon after the declaration of presidential election results by IEBC. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The democratic model of governance today rules supreme. But governments claiming to be democratic face a near universal condemnation.

They have profoundly departed from their imaginative undertaking. With all pointers of citizen trust in political leaders and institutions displaying widespread turbulence, it is safe to declare a mayday. This malady of our time is characterised by copious voter lethargy and citizen indifference to political matters.

Upsurge of democracy is thus an oxymoronic political dilemma. It has normally epitomised both reassurance and potential; tension and struggle. Reassurance when it echoed the desires of the people. Yearnings premised on the constraints of equality and self-rule.

Remove such moral standards and democracy turns into a cradle of tension and struggle. Wherever democracy has been tried, it has remained flawed, indeed, stillborn at best. At worst it is utterly debauched, delicately confined, or methodically frustrated.

An accusing finger for the deterioration and degeneration of politics is up against upsurge of individualism, tense withdrawal into the province of private space, waning of political spirit, and elite rule. Largely, representatives regard their own thing above public interest. Disheartened by cold and apathetic politics, the citizen clothes himself with a subdued disenchantment and disgust for democracy.

Democratic practice of political scepticism is specifically imperative because of the erosion of conviction in modern culture. Its resolve is to ensure that elected representatives are kept within their lawful boundaries. Besides, it's also intended to invent novel behaviours and techniques of sustaining legitimate burden on the government to serve the public good.

The notion of the validity of government on polls therefore, has almost throughout aligned with citizen distrust and suspicion of power holders. So disillusionment has persistently cohabited with the expectation of emancipation from tyranny and authoritarianism.

Significantly, in Kenya, the Constitution captures the sorrowful experience of corruption, to the possibility that special interest individuals and groups might, in spite of all safeguards, grab power and convert representative government to a repressive machine. Accordingly, even as the footings of legitimate government are set out, a repository of suspicion found manifestation in the sovereign people.

Thus, the Constitution has ingrained a range of constitutional actions to reinforce the checks of procedural legitimacy. For instance, incidence of elections has been constitutionalised and several democratic devices have been betrothed to curtail the independence of elected representatives.

Simultaneously, multifaceted variety of concrete practical counter-powers must be cherished. Substantive due processes, checks and balances, rule of law, separation of power etc both informal and institutional must be buttressed to recompense the annihilation of confidence through consolidating distrust.

Tools such as judicial review, independence of the Judiciary and access to information law merit mention. Indeed, every good constitution is an act of distrust, a form of preventive power aligned to tranquilise raw state power from running riot.

Freedom hinges on the people's organised suspicion of intrusions of government, public power and its excesses.

As such, cynicism is a structure that adopts the arrangement of suspicion of governmental authority, fear of its expression, and reservations about the health of universal suffrage. It thus goes with a restless, sceptical and cynical outlook of democracy.

By necessity though, legitimacy is a juridical element, a stringently procedural detail. It is a wholesome and incontrovertible invention of polling. Trust is painstakingly intricate. It is a form of obscure institution whose functions are immediate, paramount and utilitarian.

Thus, distrust is beyond denial to accept the imposition of capricious powers on society. It's an acknowledgement that even administrations renewed through the general will of elections could go awry by being abused or misused.

This echoes the terrifying warning by a senior government functionary that universal trust in the political process may clothe criminal individuals, initiated candidates and lawless groups including 'wash wash' cartels with the cloak of governmental power.

Remember that forbearance of corruption and disillusionment with democracy is linear. Such state organising would hurt our democracy and bleed the economy through strategic bad law making and governance.

-Dr Nyatundo is adjunct lecturer, School of Law, Africa Nazarene University