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First-past-the-post system is to blame for our electoral disputes

Men protesting presidential results in Kibra, Nairobi, on August 15, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Since 2007, presidential election outcomes have been contested. Following the deadly 2008 election violence, the Kofi Annan mediation team settled for a government of national unity as a middle ground resolution for the parties who were in conflict.

The 2013 presidential election ended up in court, in which the famous ten-minute ruling by Justice Willy Mutunga upheld the result in favour of Uhuru Kenyatta. The 2017 General Election was equally disputed and ended up in the Supreme Court where it was nullified and a repeat presidential election ordered.

The repeat election was boycotted by the opposition, paving the way for a solo-repeat election for the incumbent. Here again we are, in 2022, with yet another contested presidential election outcome.

One outstanding lesson we are yet to learn from these presidential elections is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the first-past-the-post electoral system method.

It has put this country on the path of conflict, pitting communities against each other. I am not sure going forward we will change because for the fourth time consecutively, it has not bothered us. Nevertheless, since incumbents tend to last a full term, the nearest we can revive this thought is 3032.

Besides, while courts have helped us to move on, the grievances generated from the election disputes somehow linger on. Rather than strengthening national unity, we deepen ethnicity as a power holding factor.

In the just concluded presidential election, three Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners supported the results while four were against. Of course, the beneficiary of the result will be quick to move on and set up his government since he has the certificate as required by law. However, this brings back the complications we had in 2017.

President Kenyatta was legally elected, sworn in and began ruling. But legality is not all one needs to govern unless they are dictators. One needs legitimacy, that is, the moral acceptance of the people. This legitimacy comes in two ways.

First, that the election result is won by a large margin. Those who voted against will see that they have no reason not to accept the elected leader. Second, that the process of producing a result is free, fair and credible. This is where we have a major problem in the coming days.

Disputed presidential results leave us worse off if not handled carefully. It is one thing to ask people to accept and move on but it is completely another to listen to their hearts and help them to accept and support a leader whose declared results originate from an inconclusive process.

The reason for this lies in the fact that citizens have no access to the details of the whole process.

They participate only where they are supposed to. The bigger part of the election process is controlled by bureaucrats. So an inconclusive process generates mistrust. In our case, the four versus three commissioners has tainted the legitimacy of the declared presidential winner.

Moreover, since the implicit winner-takes-it-all law is intact, nearly half of the country will feel left out of the centre where resources are distributed.

Their hope is at the county. The experience of the past 15 years of devolution show that counties can be controlled from the centre. As a result, disputed presidential election result reinforce the belief that resource distribution is dependent on loyalty to the centre than the right to resources.

To come out of this trend, it will take a Mandela-like leader to ably break the cycle of disputed presidential elections. A leader of this calibre will have to be selfless and visionary. It will take collaborative approach in which the ultimate goal will go beyond winning elections to creating a legacy in the hearts of people. By this I mean, a leader whose philosophy is rooted in promoting human dignity, prosperity and freedom.

-Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication