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What if BBI voting was by Secret Ballot?

By Michael Ndonye | May 14th 2021
Parliament buildings in Nairobi. April 28, 2021 [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The BBI Bill passed in Parliament on May 6, and the Senate on May 12, through a roll call voting in line with parliamentary Standing Orders.

What if it was done by secret ballot? Could we have obtained the same results? I think not. Methinks most honourable members voted the way they did out of fear. Some feared President Uhuru Kenyatta, others former PM Raila Odinga, and yet others DP William Ruto.

Voting in Parliament has some 'mlolongo' elements. Mlolongo, for the benefit of the young and those who can't recall, was introduced in 1988 when the current political honchos such as Raila, Uhuru, Ruto and Kalonzo Musyoka were either in or were working on joining Kanu, as a method of electing party delegates. The method was later adopted in general elections. Mlolongo had challenges of low turnout, voter bribery and exposed voters to intimidation. The parliamentary roll call voting has similar limitations.

In the mlolongo system, loud counting was done of voters queuing behind the photo of the candidate or their agent, just like the loud calling and viva voce voting used during BBI voting in Parliament. However, unlike the mlolongo system, where claims of shorter queues winning existed, BBI voting was transparent in both Houses, and the majority won pretty. But was the vote transparent from the 'inside'?

We know that from 2018 the earth has been hard for lukewarm politicians — secret voting could have benefited them. Like mlolongo voting, where everyone saw who was for or against who, a parliamentary poll by roll call exposes political underbellies and nurtures political hypocrisy.

It is said that Prof Sam Ongeri, a medical doctor, who is now Senator for Kisii County, validated the mlolongo voting by saying: “As a medical doctor, I can confirm that this is the best voting system because it saves the patient (politician) from a (possible) heart attack...the secret one has shock!”

Therefore, Uhuru, Raila and Ruto should thank Standing Order number 73 for saving them from heart attacks, which comes with secret voting. Only the Speaker's election of any of the two Houses is done by secret ballot as per Standing Orders.

During the voting sessions, honourable members in Senate and National Assembly had honourable reasons for their voting trends. Some said: “Because of more money, I vote yes. Because of extra constituencies, I vote yes. To send Raila to Bondo, I vote yes. To send Ruto to Sugoi, I vote no. To silence Uhuru Mt Kenya region, I vote no. To tame Gideon Moi, I vote yes. Because of extra counties, I vote yes. Because of the handshake, I vote yes. Because of mama Suluhu visit, I vote yes. Because of what I can’t tell, I vote no. Because of my voters, I vote no. Because yes is passing, I vote yes. Because I stand with no, it's no. To avoid pouring my flour, I vote yes. Because my party leader is no, I vote no. Because of pandemic, I vote no. Because of sitting and standing orders, I vote yes...”

This public voting has advantages; it eliminates the tensions of political privacy in voting. While secret voting is preferred, as it protects voters from intimidation, being bullied or bought, it is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent as envisioned in Article 86 of the Constitution. But does it nurture or kill democracy? If the BBI voting was done by secret ballot, could the outcome have been altered? The way you answer this question is your business.

Dr Ndonye is a Political Economist of Communication

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