IEBC inaction on poll chaos bad for Kenya’s democracy

By Andrew N Wasike | Wednesday, Nov 20th 2019 at 09:04
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The violence witnessed during the hotly contested by-election in Kibra should never have been tolerated if we are serious about developing our democracy. The poll that saw ODM candidate Imran Okoth emerge winner after beating his main challenger, McDonald Mariga of Jubilee, underscored two facts.

First, that the political premium on electing an MP in a constituency in our metropolitan county is not any different from a similar exercise in a remote county such as Kilifi, which is struggling with a myriad of challenges including illiteracy and poverty. In both cases, at least a human life was lost.

Secondly, that Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), whose duty is to manage elections, has not learnt from well documented history of violence during elections, not just in Kenya, but in other parts of the world as well.

Taking stock of previous elections and their aftermath could help in developing necessary preventive measures. An election is a contest for power, both for an individual and the political party to which they belong. In other words, elections are adversarial in nature. But if violence is normalised, then it becomes a serious threat to free and fair elections key true democracy.

Election-related violence manifests in three main forms: When actors disrupt the process on massive scale with the aim of ensuring the elections do not take place at all, as happened in parts of Nyanza during the 2017 General Election that saw the Supreme Court nullify the outcome of the presidential elections and call for a fresh poll.

Sometimes, the violence can also be triggered by intense rivalry between actors in a show of might, where force is used and ideas overlooked. Also, organised gangs may stage-manage the outcome of an election. In itself, election-related violence is not about the electoral process. It is about disobedience of the law and failure to abide by and observe established legal rules and regulations that govern the elections.

In this context, the Elections Act, Elections Offences Act and Political Parties Act would all play a role in taming criminal behavior. Yet, IEBC has remained silent about what happened in Kibra. Media showed images of hooligans as politicians, some armed with crude weapons, battled it out.

Of course some politicians have claimed they retreated not because of fear but to fight another day. Failure to arrest and charge such individuals gives a default seal of approval of such behaviour. IEBC has the law on its side but lacks will to do its job.

The agency has a duty to assure itself and Kenyans that violence is not an alternative route to political power. Any aspirant or party that considers violence must be made to suffer consequences, including disqualification and a ban from participating in future elections for a period of time. Where a contestant has applied violence to influence results, they should be cancelled. 

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