Tips on free and fair elections

July 7, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya – In a ceasefire situation, by-elections slated for August in western parts of Kenya would be a crucial credibility test for the newly created Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC).  The rural Bomachoge and Shinyalu constituencies fell vacant following the   nullification of an election for irregularities and the death of a parliamentarian.

IIEC is a replacement  of the  disgraced  Electoral  Commission of Kenya (ECK) whose  conduct  during the 2007  general elections  was   the  subject of  an international inquiry.

In an apparent response to the Commission of Inquiry recommendations, Parliament unanimously voted to dissolve ECK over disputed presidential polls in which a million dead people “voted” and more than a thousand perished in the ensuing bloody violence. 

Voters in general  are keen to know which register the Commission would use to  conduct these  by-elections, subsequent  polls  and  whether provisional registers  would be compiled as  and when need arises  before the national  voter registration kicks off. The current register is not a credible document and neither are the leaders elected under it.

It may not be within the mandate of the IIEC to change a lot of things in the electoral process, but it should conduct a postmortem on previous polls for purposes of avoiding chaos in future campaigns. The maiden task of the Commission should be the compilation of a provisional master register minus names of the deceased voters.

Some few tips based on past problems would give hints on how violence can be avoided in future polls.

The public is alarmed at the stone silence of leaders on the consequences and impact of the 2007 election violence.  Without credible political outfits, a country cannot boast of democratic, free and fair elections. As things stand today, most of the parties in this country are election conveyor belts and their nominations for elective posts are highly questionable. 

Absence of ideologically structured political parties has been the primary bane of problems in the country for four decades. Weaknesses in the law on parties have been exploited by the mighty, economic heavyweights and tribal chauvinists. 

Until and unless party elections and nominations are conducted and supervised by an independent electoral authority, there will be no credible contests in the country for many years to come.

Now that the law allows political parties to receive state funding, aspirants and elected leaders should be banned from holding party posts as is the case in credible democracies.  South African and British political parties have de-whipped the mighty as part of maintaining discipline within the party.  Such action is a far off dream in Kenya where elected leaders hold as many posts in the government and the party. It is time parties were de-linked from the government of the day and the Legislature.
To pre-empt another ‘Hague’ prosecution debate, the Political Parties Act should be overhauled to criminalise voter bribery, hate and ethnicity campaigns. It is  the  height of irony that South Africa  that endured  many years of  apartheid  and  systematic violence  could  conduct   peaceful elections in  the  continent today. One explanation for this is that the country settled for elections on the basis of political parties instead of individuals which is prone to abuse and manipulation.
In the amendments, legislative and presidential elections should be separated from civic polls and proportional representation should be introduced. Eligible voters should use national identity cards instead of separate cards. Production of   a national ID, a passport or a driving license should be mandatory in any election.

It is a surprise that legislators are not pricked by the post election events whose wounds have not started to heal. To most politicians, it is business as usual with some misguided assumption that violence cannot recur.

(J.J. Kamotho is a former cabinet minister and secretary general of two major political parties including  the longest  ruling party, Kenya African National  Union -KANU)


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