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How to reduce tension, assure Kenyans of peace during polls

Supporters of Raila Odinga react after the Supreme Court nullified the 2017 Presidential election. [File, Standard]

With only 22 days left before voting day, tensions and anxieties are heightened on all fronts. It is important for those conducting opinion polls to confine themselves within the law, the Publication of Electoral Opinion Polls Act, No. 39 of 2012, and remain faithful to the science.

Skewed opinion polls aimed at influencing perceptions as a way of drumming up support for one or other candidate can be detrimental to the electoral environment and to democracy and can incite voters against each other. It is not clear how two opinion polls ostensibly conducted in the same geographical areas within almost the same period or within differential timelines which do not exceed two months, can be so remarkably different.

These significant differences in opinion polls demonstrate biases, which are not supported by the law. Therefore, those conducting these opinion polls need to be cautious so that they do not excite unnecessary anxiety and angst.

Candidates, their supporters and voters’ nerves are frayed and the electoral environment tense with high octane politics and campaigns, which can be ignited by the slightest friction sparks.

One can see this from the verbal exchanges witnessed in the last few days and the exchanges in social media between opposing candidates and supporters. We all must bring it down several notches. This includes those conducting opinion polls, the media, candidates, their supporters and patrons of social media.

The election will come on August 9th and pass but we need a peaceful Kenya and each other. The media and their clients must continually reassure Kenyans and do their utmost best to lessen political tensions and anger.

The key stakeholders and the general public have been demanding information and documents from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). These include the KPMG report on the audit of the voter’s register.

According to the media, IEBC has been promising to share everything in a timely and reasonable manner. Despite these declarations and claims of transparency, they are yet to share this report and have not made any attempts to explain the delays.

IEBC is enjoying much support and confidence of the public including the media. To maintain this, they should regularly update, reassure people and share information they promise to share. This will gain them further support, confidence and people’s trust.

Further, there have been murmurs that the IEBC is not acting unanimously and speaking as one. An interesting example was when the first ballots and election materials arrived, the commissioners seemed to have been taken by surprise that the materials were going to/had arrived.

Someone in IEBC should have known and shared that information, even with the chairman. It is hard to imagine that a plane can arrive with materials from abroad without anyone in IEBC knowing. This does not inspire confidence and creates unnecessary tensions because suspicions around this sensitive election must be avoided at all costs.

We shall feel better to see IEBC speaking and delivering as one; with all commissioners appearing part of the whole. We know too well from terrible experiences what divisions in the commission can do to an election and to its credibility and legitimacy.

Enough, thorough and adequate internal communication before coming out to confront the rest of us, is critical and necessary.

Candidates and supporters must also respect each other despite their differing agenda, opinions and politics. They need to lessen rhetoric and unnecessary abuses, insults and hate speech. Their outrageous utterances only create tension among supporters and voters in general.

The Electoral Offences Act must be implemented without fear or favour and now. Law enforcement must ensure campaigners do not break the law and when they do, they must be called to account and be punished.

This cannot also be done selectively. The relevant inter-agency security committees need to nip it in the bud. The kind of political exchanges going on now are not acceptable and must stop. We demand peaceful, credible, free, fair and democratic elections.