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Our electoral process demands an overhaul

OPINION
By Elias Mokua | February 26th 2020

ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi (right) presents a document containing his recommendations to the Building Bridges Initiative vice chair Adams Oloo (2nd left) the task force secretary Paul Mwangi (2nd right) and Amos Wako at the KICC, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Electoral anxiety and violence in Kenya are caused by contested general election outcomes. This point must be re-emphasised and a long-term solution found.

Although potential voter violence is often used to justify heavy security around polling stations and tallying centres, that is only one side of the story. We need a peaceful environment at the polling stations, otherwise we will not be able to vote. However, there is clear contradiction between the peaceful casting of votes and the chaos that follows announcements of winners, right from the ward to the national level.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force needs to review this as it refines the document. Peace is very important yes, but peace and voting outcomes are two very different realities much as they are strongly correlated.

In 2007, 2013 and 2017, the presidential election outcomes were contested. In each of these cases, it was about the tallying, the servers, shutting down of media, the figures that did not add up (remember Tharaka Nithi?), the heavy police presence in tallying centres, the enforcement of the “single source of authoritative figures principle” which most conveniently disallows provisional results by the media and other independent sources. These show that our problems have everything to do with the vote algebra.

The report lays responsibility for electoral failures on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), hence the recommendation it be reconstituted. Since 2007, however, these independent commission looks so helpless at the hour of need. The 2017 presidential outcome, for example, was so divisive it left IEBC limping. At the critical hour, the real powers on vote algebra seem to lie elsewhere. This is what BBI needed to address.

Electoral injustices

There is absolutely nothing wrong in saying that the contestations on presidential election outcomes are a pain in the national psyche. In fact, the high number of cases of electoral injustices, from the ward up to the national level, show that our electoral process leaks badly.

Further, unreliability of the presidential election outcomes in the recent past is an epitome of how weak and vulnerable the voting process is to manipulation. There is no point having the right person in office being antagonised for not having won the election, or the wrong person installed in office to enjoy unmerited rights. BBI needed to come stronger here.

The electoral process can be likened to cooking ugali. If a cook does not follow the right process in mixing the ingredients and providing the right conditions for the ingredients to be turned into ugali, one can end up with porridge. Our electoral process produces controversial results because the ‘cooks’ mess up with the ‘recipe and the process’. Let us work on the simple fact that every vote should count by respecting the dignity of every person who casts a vote. This alone will solve half the challenges we face in the electoral process.

Replace humans

The other half is a direct consequence of tolerating corruption. The electoral process is corrupt all the way. The deadly violence around elections is directly attached to the largely illegal rewards one gets if elected. I am not sure BBI came out strong on pointers to fighting corruption in the electoral process. Since BBI has got a window to improve the document, it is necessary to revisit the first-past-the post winner principle as well as the universal suffrage poll.

To begin with, it is very possible in this time of advanced technology to cut down on expenditure and time in the whole voting process. On a light note, I am sure if we hired robots, election outcomes will be more reliable. I like this business of robots a lot because they would replace humans in whom we have a trust deficit– and drones – again because counting votes has become such a difficult ritual, courts become the next tallying centres.

Second, to address electoral outcome contestations, BBI should consider entrusting the electoral process to teachers. Our history shows that much as an independent body like IEBC makes sense theoretically in running elections, practically, on a big stage it rarely delivers without controversies that either end up on the streets or in court.

Whatever we think of teachers, and political as they may be; if entrusted with the task of overseeing our elections, I’m sure they will give us credible results than IEBC. We entrust our children to them for over 12 years -to mould them into responsible adults. The executive has made teachers look like perennial protesters, yet given the morale they need, teachers will bring great honour not only to the divisive electoral process, but to this country.

Dr Mokua is a lecturer, media and communication studies

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