In State House race, big margin victory will be good for Kenya

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

For the sake of a peaceful transition from President Uhuru Kenyatta's regime to whoever wins, between William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a bigger win margin will be a saving grace to our country.

I really hope one horse will do ‘a Kipchoge Keino’ and sprint to the finish with majority seats. An emphatic win leaves the runners-up having no much reason to hold the country to ransom.

Close elections end up with hung parliaments. Hung parliaments lack stability as a party or coalition can impeach a sitting presidency. In young democracies like ours where tribalism mostly determines political action, the consequences, particularly in the long-term, can be detrimental to social order. 

It takes massive resources to mount a presidential campaign. A loss means that in spite of the narrow margin, second best is a bitter pill to swallow. Given that we have no legal fallback position for someone who commands a substantial following, a loss may justify candidates and their supporters to spin the small margin loss to try to reverse the outcome.

The 2013 and 2017 legal battles in the presidential election results remind us that peace is fragile if election outcomes are not handled well. Often, I shudder at people who criticise the handshake between the President and Raila.

Many of us have much remember about the period between August 2017 and March 2018. The country was crossing a red line to civil unrest. Half the country did not participate in the repeat 2017 presidential election. At that point, a handshake was a patriotic act. I do not know if the meaning of the handshake metamorphosed into something else. However, that does not take away the lesson that a close election result can pose many existential challenges.

Impeaching a president is no mean task going by the process stipulated in the Constitution. But, as we move on, a president can be impeached the same way some counties have managed to impeach governors. If there is substantial reason to impeach any elected leader, people should have the possibility to do so. After all, that is why the Constitution spells out the procedure.

The challenge of a hung parliament lies on political greed; pursuing of short-term political goals at the expense of a zoned citizenry into political blocks. Ambitious political schemers can exploit these factors and the window in the Constitution to impeach or even overthrow a government.  

On the other side, a close election provides a solid “government in waiting”. Part of the reason the Kibaki regime delivered so much is that the “opposition” was strong, focused and aimed to form the next government.

The current political formation in which the government has evolved into a twin-government with parallel goals is a new phenomenon. Add the reality of the opposition joining one wing of the government and you find a very strange democratic practice.

A government that has strong checks from the opposition performs better. When everyone is in government, including an offshoot government opposition, the level of accountability and transparency reduces. By their very nature, governments offer high service delivery when the opposition and the civil society combine to demand value for taxpayers' money.

Weighing the pluses and minuses on hung parliaments, the presidential candidates have “political time” to re-strategise for a last lap sprint to give us a majority Parliament led by a president with legitimate powers to govern. Looking at the hunger with which both Raila and Ruto are campaigning, there is more fire under their bellies to calibrate the undecided voters and pull off an undisputable win.

To do this, a winning candidate needs to lessen lies, outrageous attacks and, for God’s sake, stop playing victim in order to receive sympathy votes. Those who fall for this kind of cheap political strategies have already made up their mind. Drive home a strong transformative agenda, which speaks to undecided voters.

-Dr Mokua is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication