By George Kegoro*
Now that the country has completed the general elections for 2013, which ended with the declaration of Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta as the fourth president of Kenya, it is useful to reflect on the whole electoral process in perspective.
The country must be relieved that large scale violence, a characteristic of the elections in 2007, and about which there was much fear during these elections, did not materialize this time round . However, there was still serious violence, most notably at the coast where alleged members of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) staged a series of daring attacks aimed at preventing voting at the coast. To their credit, the people of the coast bore the threat of violence with great stoicism and still voted in numbers. There is fear, however, that the numbers would have been larger if the violence had not happened.
In retrospect, the government must review its approach in tackling this group. It should be remembered that in July 2012the High Court gave a breath of legality to the MRC by lifting the ban that had been imposed on the group by the minister, who regarded it as an organized criminal group. At the time, the MRC was not known to espouse violence as a means of achieving its secessionist agenda. The attacks last week have changed all that and it will now be difficult for the MRC to justify the right to legal protection. The pre-election attacks last week must lead to a re-appraisal of the group with a view to bringing about an end to its activities.
The elections gave the IEBC its first chance to run an election. Formed only in 2010 in the place of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya, the IEBC had not had the opportunity to run elections before. While acknowledging that these elections were novel in many ways, as they gave rise to a situation in which the electorate was required to elect six offices in the place of the three that had been the tradition in Kenya, the IEBC did not meet the challenges particularly well. Two issues are worth noting in this regard.
Not unexpectedly, voting was very slow as there were many elections in one, and this led to massive queues around the country, the worst of which were in urban centres, particularly Nairobi. The violent attacks in Mombasa also led to a delayed start of polling in the affected areas. The effect of the delays was that the IEBC had completed the voting and started the announcement of results in some areas, while people in other areas were still in slow-moving queues, waiting to vote. This is highly undesirable as it probably affected the choices of those that were involved. Not surprisingly, one of the participating political parties complained about this problem. With better planning the IEBC could have minimized these delays. In future, there should be a time before which the transmission of results cannot start so as to allow those that are still voting to do so without the influence of knowing some results.
In these elections, the IEBC embraced technology which was supposed to promote accountability for the results. Without exception all the technology failed. There was failure of the biometric voter registration system aimed at identifying voters and checking on ballot stuffing. In most places, the failure of this system came as a result of the batteries of laptop computers running out of charge, often within one hour of the start of the voting. Surely, it was foreseeable that computer batteries would need to be charged. The failure to make provision for this when the IEBC acquired the very expensive BVR kits smacks of monumental incompetence for which the IEBC must be held accountable.
As a result of the failure of this technology, there will always be a suspicion, difficult to dispel, that more than those that were entitled to vote did so. The Kriegler Commission, which identified the problem of the 2007 elections dealt with the issue of improbably high voter turnouts and recommended reforms. Based on the performance of the IEBC, Kenya is still far from achieving reforms against ballot stuffing and related malpractices.
There was also a failure of the electronic results transmission system. In the face of this failure, the IEBC resorted to a manual tallying of results which has been criticized for its lack of transparency. In particular, the failure resulted in an inability on the part of the IEBC to declare results as and when these were available and the delayed declaration is regarded as prone to fraud. As part of the manual system the IEBC used Form 36, a form meant for collating polling station level results as its primary source of information as to the votes cast. There will always be doubt as to the integrity of these results because of this failure. Second, there is an issue on the value for money involved if an expensively-procured system, such as the one that the IEBC had in place, fails during a critical time.
Throughout these elections the media and other sectors of society, perhaps nervous about the failed elections of 2007, shunned stories portraying problems with the management of the elections in general and the shortcomings of the IEBC in particular. The consequence is that there has been a virtual self censorship by the media about elections 2013
In truth, the presidential elections 2013, like those of 2007 have been a failure. The similarity is that like Kibaki in 2007, Kenyatta has acquired a massive mandate without a commensurate amount of popular legitimacy. The difference is that the failure in 2007 produced violence. The fresh memories about the post-election violence, no doubt, helped in this regard.
The overall lesson from elections 2013 is that Kenya is still a long way from carrying out credible presidential elections. In the coming months, the agenda must be to address this problem, starting with an audit of the affairs of the IEBC, including the expensive, but ultimately useless, gadgets acquired to run the elections.
*George Kegoro is the Executive Director of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists.