Preventing reoccurring electoral nightmares requires work. As national and county administrations hit the mid-point for their 100-day promises, election observer groups have begun to release their 2022 election reports. What lessons and insights do they offer for the 2027 General Elections?
Stress, past trauma, substance abuse or a bad medical condition drive most nightmares. Avoiding the disorder that comes with repeated nightmares requires intentional changes in our mindsets, diet and exercise or early professional attention. This prescription also applies to the common cycle of last-minute reconstituting of our electoral commission, under-investing in voter education, undermining leadership and integrity laws and incumbents’ unfair use of public resources and offices.
This week the European Union released its final Election Observer Mission Report on the 9 August elections. The 21 recommendations contained in the 72-page report touch on the many achievements and challenges of the recently concluded elections. The IEBC, three arms of Government, namely, the Judiciary, Executive and Legislature and the other Article 51 constitutional commissions and independent agencies, must study and implement its findings or risk another controversial election in 2027.
Last-minute reconstituting of the electoral commissioners around specific political party interests were largely responsible for a painfully divided IEBC. Independence from the political class, not party interest balancing, must inform the appointment of the new Chairperson and the two Commissioners. More attention is also needed on the quality of digital technology and procurement transparency now and not in five years’ time.
Chronic under-investment in voter education was a critical failure factor in the recent elections. A whopping 18 million eligible Kenyans, many of them under 35, chose either not to register or turn out and vote. The figure is three times the number that voted for the current President.
Despite the constitutional principle of affirmative action, two-thirds gender rule and 5 per cent as the threshold for people with disabilities in all elected bodies, our elections remain elitist and male-dominated. Less than 11 per cent of the candidates were women. Most of them experienced online trolling and abuse, and threats while campaigning.
Expanding the right to vote and the space for women, persons with disabilities and candidates from marginalised communities to run, requires financing the IEBC to conduct continuous voter education. It also requires the Kenya Kwanza administration to deliver on its promise to enact affirmative action provisions that entrench the 2/3 gender principle and 5 per cent of elective slots for persons with disability by December.
This election was also probably one of the most expensive and corrupt elections ever. According to Transparency International-Kenya, there were no less than 1,300 instances recorded of voter bribery. While widespread on the Azimio la Umoja side, the misuse of public servants and public resources was also evident among their Kenya Kwanza competitors. The IEBC must now operationalise the Election Campaign Finance Act to regulate how much money is received and spent by who and on what.
The EU Observer report largely vindicates the mass media from charges that it was politically biased. Television channels provided more airtime to Kenya Kwanza’s candidate William Ruto, while newspapers provided more space to Azimio’s Raila Odinga. The critical factor seemed to be who could afford the most paid advertising. It is time to amend the Elections Campaigning Act and limit how much candidates can spend. This would open up the airwaves and columns more fairly to all.
Other legal reforms that the media associations and the ICT Ministry must consider include a better legal definition of hate speech in line with international standards and enforcement of the right to privacy in the Data Protection Act. Introducing regulations on the Access to Information Act, repealing sections 22 and 23 of the Computer Misuse and Cyber-Crimes Act and reducing penalties for defamation for journalists will also strengthen free media.
Rather than thinking the problems that bedevilled the last elections will miraculously disappear, the IEBC must be supported to implement recommendations from the domestic and international observer missions now.
Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya’s Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]