It’s been an important couple of weeks in the lead-up to the approaching March 4 Kenya National elections. The first thing that happened was the party nominations, mostly on January 17 and 18, which we reported on in a prior posting. The second development was the aftermath of the nominations and the third was the release on January 25 of a nationwide voter poll on the presidential race.
I won’t go into detail about the nominations, as you can read about them in the January 18 post to this blog. Suffice to say that they were chaotic. It strikes this writer as rather ironic and a very major stumble in the path to credible elections that Kenya has been taking. Following the widespread claims of fraud and the subsequent violence following the 2007 elections, the Kenyan government has taken many steps to make the next elections honest and open. In the vanguard of this effort is the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which replaced the prior elections authority.
One of the main reforms represented by the IEBC is its independence from all other branches of government. This independence is seen as essential to ensuring fair results. The IEBC is funded by Parliament, but other than that it is totally independent. The process is designed to be transparent at every step. The IEBC poll workers will tally the ballots at every polling place, under the watchful eyes of official observers. Those local results will be published, and will be transmitted to the IEBC headquarters. The national results will be traceable back to each locality, where the tallies will have been independently verified.
When the local tallies and ballots are received at IEBC headquarters, the Commission will consolidate the tallies from every locality and will then announce the results without having to report first to the President or to Parliament. This is meant to ensure that no office holder, party member, candidate, or government administrator will be able to influence the outcome. The intent is that the results announced by the IEBC will stand, and that the individuals with the most votes will be installed in office.
The IEBC also greatly tightened up the registration and voting processes. Because of the extensive country-wide governmental reorganization under the new 2010 constitution, universal re-registration was necessary. The IEBC was faced with recent history of major voter fraud. In some districts the number of votes cast in 2007 exceeded the number of registered voters, so it was clear that some significant abuses took place. One of the major steps in combating this type of abuse has been the institution of biometric voter registration. At registration all prospective voters had their fingerprints scanned and their pictures taken. On election day the voters’ fingers will again be scanned and their appearances must match their registration photos. Ideally, this will provide positive identification and should eliminate double-voting, voting by unauthorized persons, and voting in the place of others. This biometric registration was a massive effort that was carried out in just over 30 days last fall.
So there is much optimism that the reforms of the IEBC will take Kenya well down the road to free and fair elections. And if the elections are seen to be free and fair, a major motivation for post-election violence will have been eliminated.
And then the nominations happened. Although the presidential nominations were pretty much pre-determined, many of the down-ticket races were hotly contested. Among others, these included the governors of each of the new 47 counties, all members of Parliament, and all members of the new national Senate, which includes a man and a woman from each of the counties.
Unfortunately, the IEBC did not conduct the nominations. Instead, each of the parties conducted its own, and then submitted the nominees to the IEBC to be included on the ballot. The voting was often spectacularly flawed and chaotic. Following the voting, it seemed clear that in some cases the parties gave the nominations to party stalwarts instead of the people who had received the most votes. The IEBC has announced that they will not accept nominations that appear to be flawed, and indeed they have already disqualified some of the submitted nominees, but over 100 protests have been filed and it seems doubtful that the Commission will be able to adequately investigate all protests in the limited time they have. The result will be that the IEBC may conduct a free and fair election, but that many of the candidates will have been selected through a fraudulent process. There are already calls for the IEBC to conduct the nominations in the next election, 5 years hence, but for 2013 it’s water under the bridge.
The final item to report on at this time is the just-released results of a national opinion poll on the presidential race. Although Kenya has a large multiplicity of political parties, most of the parties have formed coalitions for the purposes of the presidential race. The reason is that, unlike for the lower offices, the President must be elected by a majority of all votes cast. If no one gets an absolute majority on March 4, there will be a runoff between the top two April 11. Therefore the parties have gotten together in the hopes that a candidate will earn the needed 50% plus 1 on the first ballot.
The five major candidates for President are Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, Musaila Mudavadi, Martha Karua, and Peter Kenneth. The opinion poll that was released on January 25 showed Odinga with the support of 46% of the voters, Kenyatta with 40%, Mudavadi with 5%, and Karua and Kenneth with 1% each. Thus it appears that Odinga and Kenyatta will be battling tooth and nail to secure an absolute majority. If the current numbers hold, it is likely that the country will be headed for a runoff in April. Bear in mind, however, that this is just a single poll, the poll was taken prior to the nomination process, and many things can happen between now and March.