Polls are designed to preserve interests of politicians and their cronies

Elections are rituals. [iStockphoto]

These days, elections, and by design politicians, don’t excite me. I cringe in horror whenever I come across people who still believe elections can bring about meaningful change in the lives of ordinary folk; people who still think politicians care about the masses.

Elections are rituals. They don’t count, and if they do, not for the good of the larger society. This truism however hasn’t stopped the so-called constitutional democracies from believing in elections and spending billions of money on them every cycle.

Political evolution of human society has made periodic elections somewhat necessary, but, that doesn’t mean elections always serve the purpose for which they are designed.

Far too many Kenyans have placed their faith in politicians perhaps more than they have in the possibility of Jesus coming back soon. Kenya will be holding the third first-past-the-post general election since the promulgation of 2010 Constitution in the coming days. And the atmosphere is up there.

When it comes to doing bad politics, the type that is laced with diatribe, wild promises and demagoguery, no one beats my fellow countrymen and women. Let’s give credit where it’s due: We know how to do our thing.

But to what end, folks? The understanding of politics through collective consciousness suggests that elections are the best way to bring about sustainable development in the society.

That could be true because elections legitimise mismanagement of resources by those who wield political power. Allow me to explain.

Elections, whether free and fair or not, give politicians the power to determine how resources are distributed. In most cases, significant amount of resources are shared among the political elite and those who enjoy proximity to power.  

There is little reason to believe that this will not be another sham presidential election like the previous four. The IEBC has flagrantly failed to implement the Supreme Court 2017 ruling. To this day, it has been unable to 'open' the servers.

The handshake between President Kenyatta and the then opposition leader Raila Odinga in March 2018 basically legitimised the electoral coup that was the 2017 presidential election.

In letting bygones be bygones, as he put it, Raila undermined the very concept of electoral justice which was his main reason for boycotting the repeat presidential elections in 2017.

While we might like to say that the truce allowed the country to move on, it also exposed Raila as an opportunist, just like his peers. But this piece isn’t about Raila or the handshake. It is about the organised rituals that are elections.

“Without the accountability of free and fair elections, a free press, free speech, and freedom of assembly, even well-intentioned small-coalition rulers can only do whatever they and their coalition advisers think is best,” Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno write in The Dictator’s Handbook

Democratic elections are contests of competence that ideally should be judged by the voters at the polling station. Like in most countries, that is not invariably the case in Kenya. Elections have become rituals designed to preserve interests of politicians and the people around them.  

Until its return to China, Hong Kong had had no elections. Singapore, for much of its history, could not be described as a democracy. Hong Kong has better public policies than Kenya, and Singapore’s GDP is four times ours. That written, absence or presence of elections is just but a single story inside the bigger one.