Kenya’s preparation for the August general elections moved to the penultimate stage with the country’s parties holding primaries for the various elective posts. The primaries attracted thousands of aspirants and saw huge voter turnout never witnessed before. It was a testament both to the growth of democracy in the country as well as the citizens understanding of their civic duty.
The just concluded party nominations exercise brought to fore familiar recurrent themes as well as set up new trends. Despite the schedule for the elections being set early enough, the nominations were far from smooth requiring cancelling and rescheduling. From cases of inadequate voting materials, harassment of the returning officers by aspirants, to late opening of polling stations, altered voter register and inadequate security, these factors, coupled with the competitive nature of the politics especially in party strongholds and internal party conflicts led to chaos in all the major parties.
As we head towards the August General Elections, here is a look at the good, the bad and the lessons from the primaries that can be used by the electoral body Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to manage and mitigate behaviors that spells trouble for democracy or can bar free, fair and credible elections.
Large Voter Turn Out
Normally in Kenya, party primaries have a low voter’s turnout. But the recent primaries had a surprising massive voter turnout. In almost all parties, the unanticipated turn out led to rescheduling of the primaries throughout the country as the voting materials were inadequate and the parties were caught by surprise and their preparation was exposed. With many polling centers registering over 85% voter turnout especially in the party strongholds, it is an indicator of the things to come in August. While this is a good thing it calls upon the IEBC to be ready first in having an updated voters’ register as well as enough personnel to man the process that is bound to be the most demanding yet.
Late arrival and shortage of electoral material was a major factor to the challenges faced in the primaries. Despite the amount spent in the preparations, the major parties could not get the materials even in polling stations near the capital city. For the IEBC the task is to reach at all the polling stations as early as possible to allow voters enough time for voting. Delays only serve to increase tensions and fears of rigging. The polls witnessed challenges in arrival of electoral materials where voters who had arrived as early as five in the morning had to wait to the afternoon to vote. In other cases, some ballot papers were fewer than the number of registered voters
Conducting elections is not an easy task. There must be effective planning, controlling or managing the electoral material which lacked in the primaries.
An Informed Electorate
From the recent party primaries, Kenyans showed they are more informed in their political decisions. In the past, voters spared politicians and some politicians thought they were untouchable. In the recent polls, voters seemed more enlightened and are aware of their democratic rights. Veteran politicians and incumbents used to undermining people, misusing their power or making false promises or failing to deliver were all tossed out at the party nominations stage.
Election Fraud and Violence
Even with the notable progress in democracy, one thing Kenya never seem to lose is election fraud that one way or another leads to violence. Almost all parties failed to carry out mature elections. In a number of cases, results had to be cancelled and new dates set up due to the obvious vote stealing and rigging. The losers refused results and resulted to violence. Bribery of voters, kidnapping of contestants and returning officers, ballot stuffing were all methods deployed to rig the primaries. In some cases, the parties helped in scheming the winning of their preferred candidates.
With instruction, several Returning Officers announced winners even before the total votes were tallied. The returning officers who refused to corporate were intimated and kidnapped. The worst came when multiple candidates were declared winners for the same seats.
It is going to take a lot on IEBC part to gain the confidence of the parties and voters. Proper vote tallying and adherence to the election laws as well as an all-inclusive approach and fast resolution will go a long way in boosting the integrity of the process.
New Crop of Young and Female Leaders
This was an exciting part of the nominations. Popular and veteran politicians were voted out and a new crop of young people were voted in. What seemed impossible was finally realized and Kenyans showed they had grown tired of the same old stories and were now ready to give chances to new blood with power of their vote. The perception that Kenyans are never involved in the decision making of their country was kicked out. More so, Kenyans set history when they elected two women as leading contenders for the governorship while a watchman campaigning in a cart was elected at a local assembly position.
The nominations exercise showed just how much both the aspirants and the voters and invested in the process. It made the nominations highly competitive increasing the stakes and the emotive aspect of the politics. While competitive politics provides the voters with options and pressures the leaders to perform, the negative effect is when the aspirants resort to a win at all costs approach. This sees embracing violence and even disputing credible results.
For Kenyans, August 8th presents an opportunity they have awaited. With such increased stakes only a credible election will grant them justice. The elections have to be free and fair and much pressure is in the electoral commission, aspirants as well as the electorate. These lessons from the primaries have to be heeded and acted upon by all stakeholders.